Edward Albee Essay - Albee, Edward (Vol. 1)

Albee, Edward (Vol. 1)

Albee, Edward 1928–

Prize-winning American playwright, Albee is often associated with the Theater of the Absurd, and is best known for The Zoo Story, The American Dream, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and Tiny Alice. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.)

A Delicate Balance, which is no more than half a play, [is] about a year's work from completion. The author, scurrying to keep up with his white rabbit schedule, did not have time to finish it, but simply stuffed the cracks with cotton and was on his way. Before the situation has even been established, the characters are philosophizing about it over their brandy…. Albee is like a jumpy hostess who can't wait to get her guests' tongues loosened, but brings them their drinks out on the driveway.

This tactic may be taken as a likely sign of creative fatigue. One of the great problems connected with writing too much is that it becomes such a bore setting things up every time, making those first moves with the pawns….

Probably the only way to save the play would be to dump all the harangues, and explanations, and most of the ideas, and to replace them with scenes. But scenes take longer to write. Those two people who are afraid of their own house are worth a play, and for the few minutes that they are treated comically (à la his own American Dream) Albee shows us what he might have done with them.

Wilfrid Sheed, "A Delicate Balance" (1966), in his The Morning After (reprinted with the permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc.; © 1963, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971 by Wilfrid Sheed; © 1968 by Postrib Corp.; foreword © 1971 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc.), Farrar, Straus, 1971, pp. 165-67.

Like European Absurdists, [Edward] Albee has tried to dramatize the reality of man's condition, but whereas Sartre, Camus, Beckett, Genet, Jonesco, and Pinter present that reality in all its alogical absurdity, Albee has been preocccpied with illusions that screen man from reality. For the Europeans, absurdity or non-sense is metaphysical reality; for Albee, the world "makes no sense because the moral, religious, political and social structures man has erected to 'illusion' himself have collapsed." In Albee's drama, however, illusion is still present, and the action often dramatizes the process of collapse, so that we, the audience, arrive at a recognition of the reality behind illusion. In successive plays, Albee's vision of reality grows more complex, and it cannot be contained by more words; instead, metaphor, gesture, and rhythm depict reality obliquely. (p. 6)

Albee has been moving away from political and social structures toward moral and religious illusion. Thus, the greedy, conformist American family of The American Dream differs markedly from the greedy, love-bound family of A Delicate Balance, as apocalyptic Jerry of The Zoo Story differs markedly from apocalyptic Julian of Tiny Alice. Common to several of Albee's plays is the existentialist view of an Outsider who suffers at the hands of the Estab-lishment—social, moral, or religious—which announces itself in "peachy-keen" clichés that indict those who mouth them—Peter, Mommy, the Nurse, Nick. Albee has moved from this American anti-American idiom into the metaphysical suggestiveness of Tiny Alice and A Delicate Balance, and his language accommodates both colloquialism and convolution, both excruciating specificity and horrifying generality.

The shadow of death darkens all Albee's plays, growing into the night of Tiny Alice and A Delicate Balance. Man's mortality is the subject of both plays, and the drama arises from man's terror. Transitional, Virginia Woolf touches on the fear in human love without illusion. Tiny Alice probes the heroism of human illusion about the divine. A Delicate Balance returns to a shrunken earth; the house appointed for all living is shaken by the living dead, but accident and brinkmanship salvage the equilibrium. (pp. 43-4)

Ruby Cohn, in her Edward Albee ("University of Minnesota Pamphlets on American Writers," No. 77), University of Minnesota Press, © 1969 (and in Dictionary of American Literary Biography, Scribner's, © 1973).

Because [Edward] Albee does attempt a more difficult, a more deeply penetrating, view of reality than some of the older dramatists, who by comparison seem merely to scratch the surface of illusion, Albee has earned for himself all kinds of opprobrious epithets from holders of orthodox social, political, and theological opinions, as well as from drama critics bent on preserving the status quo. Consequently, we find him defending his position by saying that the playwright should not only entertain but also criticize society, should not only criticize society but also deliberately offend it—and intentionally do so. (p. 34)

As a writer, Edward Albee brings to the American stage an extreme lack of sentimentality, one that in many cases his audience may not be prepared for. Often this quality shows itself in his diction and in his dialogue: his "merciless ear for [exposing] the clichés, non sequiturs and droning repetitions of everyday talk." Yet, with the possible exception of The American Dream, he has not really been an effective satirist; for he seems, in his plays, to lack belief that correction is possible. And so we are left with a feeling of absurdity and despair that can hardly be classified as a remedy for social evils. More than one critic has leveled against him the charge that he lacks any set of values with which to make events morally significant; and perhaps this quality, for some, makes his serious attempts at tragedy sometimes fall so flat. At the same time, Albee certainly has the power to produce powerful emotional effects, as his better work in Virginia Woolf, Tiny Alice, and even A Delicate Balance clearly shows. (p. 168)

Richard E. Amacher, in his Edward Albee, Twayne, 1969.