“What I find most astonishing, I think, is the wonder of daylight, of the sun.
All the centuries, millenniums-all the history-I wonder if that’s why we sleep at night,
because the darkness still…frightens us? …come now; we can begin the day.”
– Agnes, Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance
I still consider myself a relative newcomer to the theater world; particularly in terms of plays and theater history. It’s quite rare for me to see a play that I’ve already experienced (most of what I see tends to be new, or at least new to me). Though I admit, I really do love the opportunity! I like seeing different interpretations of work that I’m familiar with; I can’t really explain why. Maybe it’s because I don’t consider myself artistically/theatrically creative in that way (and that, my friends, is why I work in arts admin), so I’m always intrigued by how others take a classic or “known” work and run with it.
Last Thursday night, The Boy and I had the distinct pleasure of being in the Opening Night audience at Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance on Broadway, starring John Lithgow and Glenn Close. I am not familiar with everything in the Albee cannon, but what I have seen so far I have thoroughly enjoyed (it also helps that my first Albee play was Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton…yeah, incredible!). Our first experience with A Delicate Balance was a few seasons ago at McCarter Theatre in Princeton (with the wonderful John Glover and Kathleen Chalfant), and we were eager to see this play’s return to Broadway. Ok, to be perfectly honest, the show’s marketing image really grabbed me; I’m a sucker for a stylish poster image.
The play was, well, Albee—drinking, dark humor, drama—everything you’d expect. It’s not the play itself that I wanted to write about here though; it’s what happened after the performance that made the whole experience simply humbling.
Since it was Opening Night, there were plenty of photos being taken and flowers handed out at curtain call (here are some pics from Playbill). Then something happened; as the audience was still on its feet, John Lithgow stepped forward and slowly put his hands out indicating that he had something to say. He thanked everyone for being there and acknowledged that we—along with the cast—probably had someone else on our minds that night: legendary director Mike Nichols who had just passed away.
In an incredibly emotional and inspiring speech, Mr. Lithgow enlightened us to the fact that Mr. Nichols made his Broadway debut on the very stage where they were all standing, in the very theater where we all sat: the John Golden Theatre on 8th Avenue and 45th Street. He also told us that Mr. Nichols came to see the show a mere 10 days prior to his death and graciously told the cast that this was the best production of A Delicate Balance he’d ever seen. Actor Bob Balaban briefly spoke about how Mr. Nichols not only gave him his first film gig, but also his first role on Broadway, then proceeded to ask Glenn Close to say something “happy.” [cue audience laughter] She stumbled a little bit, almost at a loss for words. Ms. Close told a brief story about Mr. Nichols and said that when an actor would be done shooting on a Nichols film, he would always sing Happy Trails. And the cast felt it would be a fitting close to their Opening Night performance to honor Mr. Nichols with Happy Trails.
The entire theater broke out in song—it was absolutely incredible! (Broadway.com snagged a little clip and put it on their Instagram. Check it out: Happy Trails) This was one of those rare spontaneous, shared moments that reminds us why we see (and for some of us, work in) theater.
Until we meet again…