Episode 39 of 52: In which Katharine Hepburn stars in an Edward Albee play that's not Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and does her first television interview.
When you hear “Pulitzer Prize winning drama by Edward Albee,” you probably don’t imagine a play as self-conscious as A Delicate Balance. In Tony Richardson’s chilly movie adaptation, Agnes (our own Kate) and Tobias (Paul Scofield) try desperately to keep pretenses of civility intact. Early on, Agnes debates the possibility of losing her mind - a fall into chaos she worries that she’s tipping precariously towards. Her issue is not how it will feel, but how it will look. What will her husband do? Order, or the semblance of it, must be kept. Civilization is built on such shaky foundations.
A Delicate Balance appears, for its first hour at least, impenetrable, impersonal, and pretty dull. The supposedly welcoming home is bathed in cold overhead light, which gives everyone a corpse-like pallor and unreadable eyes. The house’s occupants are equally dispassionate. Agnes and Tobias maintain a polite-if-precarious balancing act with each other while living with Claire (Kate Reid), Agnes’s alcoholic sister. Their daughter Julia (Lee Remick) is an empty nester’s nightmare, a grown woman-child on the eve of her fourth divorce.
Slowly then suddenly, the truly bizarre occurs and the film picks up. Two family friends, Harry and Edna (Joseph Cotton and Betsy Blair), have been scared out of their house by a nameless terror, and they refuse to leave Julia’s room, a fact over which Julia quickly flies into hysterics. What starts as a breach of etiquette becomes an existential quandary. Can fear infect like a disease? What rights can friends and family claim from you? What does it say about you if you throw your friends out?
Katharine Hepburn's last Albee play and first television interview after the jump...