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Salient. Victoria University of Wellington Students' Newspaper. Volume 31, Number 13 June 18, 1968

Drama — Soft echoes of Chekov, the supreme master


Soft echoes of Chekov, the supreme master

Edward Albee has grown up. He still has the scintillating brilliance of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, the anger and disgust of the Death of Bessie Smith, the personal and social insight of Zoo Story and The American Dream, but he now has more warmth and compassion. His glittering coolness has always excited our admiration but not until this play has he brought his audience to the edge of tears.

Perhaps he feels the fingers of middle-age upon him for this play is, above all, about life without illusions. There are layers of meaning which peel off as the play progresses, to reveal even greater depths and satisfactions yet each may be enjoyed alone. The middle-aged in the audience may see themselves a little more clearly; the young may better understand the older; and all will feel they have been closer to people rather than to a play.

It is not a pretty play but it is beautiful: beautiful in its shape and structure, in its humanity and understanding, in its delicacy and depth, and in its glittering houesty.

I kept hearing soft echoes of Chekov, the supreme master in creating people who reflected a decaying civilisation. Albee has denied that he seeks to do this for like Chekov he writes of the people he sees and knows, but they are people of their times and it is the quality of the times which comes clear.

Albee's characters talk to each other and they sometimes understand but the talk and the understanding are not related; they sometimes make love but they do not love; they live but they have no commitment to. or in, life; they behave but they have no clear values; they continue to exist but only because no new breed has yet arisen to take their place; they no longer are sure of who or what they are.

So we have a fine and moving play which happily is well served by a east, designer and producer who have achieved a rare harmony and unity of purpose. Only such a group could have attained the measured, savouring pace that the play demands. This is a real test of quality.

The whole action develops around Agnes, a finely drawn, taut and articulate middle-aged woman desperately clinging to the remnants of her life. This is Superbly played by Anne Flannery who must surely find this the most satisfying of her many fine roles.

Ray Henwood continues to amaze and delight with his talent and skill. I don't know how great his range may be but it certainly stretches from the fanatical strength of Sergeant Musgrave, in an earlier Unity production. to the restrained, watchful acceptance and sombre withdrawal of this play. This is not his best performance but it is a very good one

The balance of the play is in the hands of Claire who exists as a kind of chorus commenting on life from the sidelines, aware but uninvolved, alive but not really living, the permanent spectator whose mordant wit entertains but never completely covers the empty loneliness. Raeburn Hirsch does this with such style that we are always conscious of the pain and desolation just beneath the mocking enamelled interior.

Christine Batstone has the ferociously difficult task page 9of creating a character who at the age of 36 must move between a sharp embittered uncertainy and a childlike craving for love. She achieves this to a satisfying degree and provides real dramatic impetus to the middle of the play.

Ken Blackburn and Dell King fill out the cast with very good performances in the difficult roles of Harry and Edna; I thought Ken Blackburn's first scene was particularly good and I greatly admired Dell King's maddening certainty. My abiding memory of this cast is of its completeness.

Grant Tilly balanced and blended his colours and styles to a nicety and gave such thought to details that he had selected books for the shelves which indicated that the real life of this family had stopped many years before. He should be thoroughly satisfied.

Producer George Webby is on show for the first time since his two years in the U.S.A. and his return is indeed triumphant. Before he went away he was regarded as an unusually gifted and perceptive producer who lacked only a thorough consistency of control. He returns with the disciplined confidence without which this memorable production would have been impossible.

Anne Flannery, Grant Tilly and George Webby were all trained overseas on Arts Council bursaries—would that all New Zealand's investments could show such handsome returns.

A Delicate Balance by Edward Albee; produced at Downstage by George Webby.