Critical Overview

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 714

A Delicate Balance is one of Albee’s most longlived plays, enjoying receptive audiences and reviews both in the 1960s, when it was first produced, and more recently in the 1990s and 2000s, when it experienced a revival. Although not every review has been positive toward Albee and his work, most acknowledge his impact on American drama, with A Delicate Balance being credited as one of his more influential plays. As Harold Clurman in his 1966 New York Times article writes, ‘‘Albee seems to excite everyone to a defiant admiration or to a determined denunciation.’’ Clurman goes on to declare, ‘‘Albee is a master of stage speech,’’ which he says is ‘‘extremely studied and remarkably euphonious.’’ He also states that A Delicate Balance

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comes closest . . . to a synthesis of Albee’s traits and talents. Though still somewhat withheld by the mask of comedy and vindictive humor, it voices his particular ache in the most genuinely compassionate tone of which he is now capable.

Another 1960s reviewer, this time Walter Kerr in the New York Times, believed that the main theme of A Delicate Balance was hollowness, and that Albee, Kerr states in a somewhat sarcastic tone, did a good job in presenting it as it is, ‘‘offered to us on an elegantly lacquered empty platter the moment the curtain goes up.’’ Kerr then goes on to question how a playwright might offer hollowness. He states that Harold Pinter, a British playwright in Albee’s time, did it through suggestion. Pinter never used ‘‘the word ‘fright’; he simply frightens us. Mr. Albee, on the other hand, plays out his hand all too readily, revealing that there is so little in it.’’ Kerr felt that Albee, rather than making the audience feel frightened, only allowed the audience to listen to the details of other people’s fright. He then goes on to liken the images that Albee presents to ‘‘chocolate Easter bunnies that crack wide open at the very first bit [sic].’’

In a book published in 1987, giving the critic a more distanced view on Albee’s works, Gerry Mc- Carthy in his book Edward Albee writes that A Delicate Balance ‘‘is a remarkably clear and deft piece of work.’’ McCarthy believes that at the time Albee wrote this play, he had eased into a more comfortable relationship with his writing and because of this A Delicate Balance reflects a new sense of ‘‘coolness.’’ McCarthy continues, ‘‘His style allows the structure of the play to be more carefully arranged,’’ and the way he defines the central concern of this play ‘‘is meticulously controlled through a disciplined, highly articulate prose.’’

On April 21, 1996, Albee’s play was revived and presented at Lincoln Center in New York. Vincent Canby, writing a review of this revival production in the New York Times, tells his readers, ‘‘This production has the impact of entirely new work.’’ Canby’s claim is backed up later when the play wins a Tony Award for best revival. Canby adds that audiences should expect ‘‘an evening of theatrical fireworks that prompt astonished oohs and ahs, genuine laughter and a certain amount of delicious unease.’’

Since the 1996 revival, Albee’s play has enjoyed new productions around the globe. A press release from the Circle Theatre in Dallas, Texas, describes Albee’s play as being ‘‘filled with shades of meaning, subtleties, and whole paragraphs of brilliant dialogueue,’’ which has made it ‘‘classic theater.’’ In a review in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in January 2001, theatre critic Joe Adcock states that Albee has ‘‘expanded’’ Jean-Paul Sartre’s (a French existentialist writer’s) theory of hell. In Albee’s play, ‘‘hell is still other people. But now there are six of them. They spread themselves out over three acts. Their damnation lasts nearly three hours.’’ Adcock continues by stating that Albee also ‘‘expands the dimensions of hell,’’ as hell not only exists on the stage but ‘‘spills out into the auditorium . . . and his characters and his story torture the audience.’’ Writing during the same week, only this time in the Seattle Times, critic Misha Berson describes the play and the playwright in more flattering terms. ‘‘What Albee brings to the subject [of extinction] . . . is a scalding wit and . . . a gift for poetic reverie and a rare ‘delicate balance’ of social satire and compassionate absurdity.’’

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