Introduction

A Delicate Balance

A Delicate Balance was first produced at the Martin Beck Theatre, New York, on 22 September 1966, in a staging directed by Alan Schneider. The play centers on Agnes and Tobias, a middle-aged suburban couple settled into an affluent but stultifying existence. The precarious balance of their accommodation to each other is upset by the arrival for extended stays of their daughter, Julia, who has left her third husband, and the couple's friends Harry and Edna, who are fleeing a vague but ominous dread of nothingness. The relationship of the domineering Agnes and the emasculated To-bias is further disrupted by the presence of Agnes's alcoholic sister, Claire, who attempts to seduce Tobias but is rebuffed. In the course of the play Agnes and Tobias come to an awareness of the emptiness of their life together, and both repudiate their habitual roles: Agnes refuses to be the decision-maker and Tobias rouses himself from his lethargy to take the decisive action of allowing Harry and Edna remain in the house, despite the objections of Julia, who views them as intruders. The second couple, however, decline to stay, realizing that the house offers them no refuge from their feelings of fear and alienation.