Last Updated on July 29, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 626
Albee’s writing is often compared to Eugene O’Neill’s. In Long Day’s Journey into Night (1956), O’Neill tells a story about an unhappy, dysfunctional family in which the youngest son is sent to a sanatorium to recover from tuberculosis, all the while despising his father for sending him there. The young man’s mother is wrecked by narcotics, and his older brother is an alcoholic.
When Albee’s writing leans more toward the absurd, it is often compared to Harold Pinter’s. One of Pinter’s more famous plays is The Homecoming (1976), which is set in an old house in North London, where an aging father lives with his two sons and his younger brother. The action begins when Teddy, another one of the father’s sons, who has been away from the family for six years, brings his wife home to visit the family she has never met. As the play progresses, the younger brothers make passes at their sister-in-law until they all but make love to her in front of her stunned husband.
Albee has said that Eugene Ionesco is one of his role models. In Rhinoceros (1959), as in many of his early plays, Ionesco startles audiences with an absurd world that invariably erupts in both laughter and anxiety as the population of a town slowly transforms into a herd of rhinoceros with only one human, at the end, remaining. This is Ionesco’s statement against conformity, especially in reference to the brutality of the Nazi movement of his time.
If Albee were to choose the playwright who most impressed him, it probably would be Samuel Beckett. In Happy Days (1961), Beckett explores relationships that bind one person to another by showing the mutual dependency of a woman, Winnie, who is buried in a mound of dirt (first up to her waist and later up to her neck) by her frustratingly silent mate, Willie.
Known as the Albee play that did not win the Pulitzer Prize, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1962) has often been described as a thematic precursor to A Delicate Balance. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is a play in three acts with the action taking place in the living room of a house belonging to a middle-aged couple, George and Martha, who are drunk and quarrelsome. When another couple stops by for a nightcap, they are enlisted as fellow fighters, and the battle begins. A long night of malicious games, insults, humiliations, betrayals, painful confrontations, and savage witticisms ensues. The secrets of both couples are laid bare, and illusions are viciously exposed.
In order to better understand the disease of alcoholism, James Robert Milam and Katherine Ketcham have written Under the Influence: A Guide to the Myths and Realities of Alcoholism (reissue edition 1984). Based on scientific research, this book examines the physical factors of alcoholism and suggests a stigma-free way of understanding and treating alcoholics. Some of the topics in this book include ways of defining an alcoholic, stages of alcoholism, how to choose a treatment program, why prescribed drugs can be dangerous and even fatal for alcoholics, and how to ensure a lasting recovery.
Called one of the Angry Young Men (a group of writers in England who freely expressed their disdain for established British society), John Osborne is said to have changed the face of British theatre with his play Look Back in Anger. It was first performed in 1956, and although the form of the play was not new, its content was. The play centers on disenfranchised youth, an unusual topic at the time, with its hero, Jimmy Porter, frustrated with his position in society, which he can never overcome because the traditional possessors of wealth and privilege will forever hold him in his place.