A Delicate Balance: A Play Essay - Critical Evaluation

Edward Albee

Critical Evaluation

The success of Edward Albee’s first play, The Zoo Story (1959), was followed by that of The American Dream (1961) and the controversial Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1962). A Delicate Balance (1966), a more restrained work, was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in drama in 1967, a distinction also bestowed upon Seascape (1975) in 1976 and Three Tall Women (1991) in 1994. Disliking literary labels, Albee reluctantly identifies himself as an eclectic, with dramatic roots extending as deeply into the plays of Anton Chekhov and Eugene O’Neill as into those of Samuel Beckett and Tennessee Williams. His plays generally deal with people’s attempts to make sense for themselves of their senseless positions in a senseless world. The plays work effectively, largely through their rich verbal texture. Albee possesses an extraordinary ear for the inflections and rhythms of speech and writes lines that are essentially musical in their flow: Voices echo and answer themselves and one another like instruments of different timbres playing a chamber composition. This highly complex counterpoint of convoluted sentences set against robust American colloquialisms is filled with black humor, comic irony, and tragic sarcasm.

A Delicate Balance concerns the failure of relationships among family members and their closest friends. Albee’s theme is that people often thoughtlessly espouse superficial values that later trap them into maintaining insincere relationships. Adjusting to appearances rather than to reality, they suffer through serious failures in communication and eventually lose any possibility of finding any gratifying emotional fulfillment. Evasions in the guise of “making do” and “making it work” enable the four principal characters in the play to pretend to themselves and to one another that their family is a happy one, or at least quite average, because their relationships appear similar to those prevailing in many other families around them. When forced eventually to examine their fantasy worlds honestly, they discover them to be empty and meaningless, and they are left alone, deprived of their illusions, with some new and difficult truths to face and ponder—or to reject.

Agnes establishes and...

(The entire section is 932 words.)