A Delicate Balance Critical Reception - Essay

Edward Albee

Critical Reception

(Drama Criticism)

Initial reaction to A Delicate Balance was decidedly mixed. Harold Clurman considered it a brilliant play that "dramatizes discomfort": in the world depicted in the drama "one's soul finds no resting place, no spiritual security." Robert Brustein, however, condemned it as "a very bad play … boring and trivial," while John Gassner pronounced it "neither a very good play nor a very bad one." When it was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, most regarded the decision as a belated attempt by the Pulitzer committee to atone for failing to give Albee the prize for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. Subsequent commentators have sought to identify the unnamed fear that suffuses the play by investigating the issues of isolation, alienation, and individual identity. John J. von Szeliski has called A Delicate Balance "a brilliant and highly significant play" in which the characters "suddenly realize … that their lives represent no real solace against the pressure of their mortality." M. Patricia Fumerton, in her examination of the play's language, has argued that in A Delicate Balance "language appears not as a medium for communication, but as a necessary protective device; it forms an impenetrable blockage, a thick layer of skin within which each individual may rest secure: isolated and lonely and—tragically—invulnerable."And Virginia I. Perry has asserted that A Delicate Balance underscores "the fragile nature of [one's] illusion of security by exploring the ill-defined boundaries which separate sanity from madness and by exposing just how delicate those boundaries can be."