A Delicate Balance

It should be a lavish, funny dream, but instead it's mysteriously dull


Through March 29

Tickets are $20


The Phoenix Theatre, 414 Mason (between Post and Geary), S.F.

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Edward Albee's three-act play about an unstable family veering close to disaster should be a rich, lavish, decadent dream, populated by complacent men and talkative, shrewish women. It should also be funny, and a little surreal, because the central event involves an adult couple arriving in a cold sweat, frightened like children by a nameless horror inside their Westchester County house. Harry and Edna just want to climb into bed. Agnes and Tobias, their hosts, send them upstairs, where the scared couple appropriates a bedroom. Julia -- Agnes and Tobias' daughter -- comes home, and cannot stand the idea of two middle-aged people sleeping in her bed. Since the story is so frivolous, the play's power lives in the domestic passions boiling just under the surface, and the drama itself is a delicate balance -- it needs a conviction from the actors that no one in the cast can muster. Richard Harder's slackly directed show is a mess of loose ends and unfelt lines, strange pauses and forgotten words. Barbara Michelson sometimes rises to eloquence in her speeches as Claire, Agnes' drunken, truth-telling sister, but otherwise the production is mysteriously dull.

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