Critical Context

(Comprehensive Guide to Drama)

Though A Delicate Balance received mixed reviews, the play earned for Edward Albee his first Pulitzer Prize and marked nearly a decade of his prominence on the American stage. Earlier plays may have used more compelling or passionate characters and ordeals, in contrast to A Delicate Balance’s propriety and superficiality. Its dramatic structure is easy to follow, and the characters are not overly complex. The play is uniform, consistently realistic, and well made in a way that no other Albee work is. The play insists on normalcy (as opposed to the raw tensions in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolfei.?, pr., pb. 1962, or the bizarre mystery in Tiny Alice, pr. 1964), though the normalcy is forced and even fabricated.

A Delicate Balance marks a change in the way that Albee used language. In preceding plays, language communicates meaning directly between characters. Beginning with A Delicate Balance, which launches a string of plays in which communication fails and love and life are empty (see especially Counting the Ways, pr., pb. 1977), Albee’s language conceals more than it reveals, becoming more mannered, more difficult, and even more abstract.

Albee uses a wide range of dramatic styles and devices in his plays, which range from sketches whose staging lasts less than a quarter of an hour (Fam and Yam, pr. 1960) to full-length Broadway productions (such as Who’s...

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