Critical Context

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 424

Seascape continues Edward Albee’s exploration of human relationships. The Zoo Story (pr. 1959, pb. 1960), his first play; Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (pr., pb. 1962), his first full-length play; and A Delicate Balance (pr., pb. 1966), his first Pulitzer Prize-winning play, are all concerned with the relationships that define...

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Seascape continues Edward Albee’s exploration of human relationships. The Zoo Story (pr. 1959, pb. 1960), his first play; Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (pr., pb. 1962), his first full-length play; and A Delicate Balance (pr., pb. 1966), his first Pulitzer Prize-winning play, are all concerned with the relationships that define people’s lives, focusing particularly on the difficulty of communicating honestly. Marriage Play (pr. 1987, pb. 1995) carries the examination of relationships into a failed marriage, with more violent and harsh overtones than Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Three Tall Women, his 1991 play (pb. 1994), continued his exploration with relationships, this time with an autobiographical bent. The play examines the life of a wealthy, cantakerous, elderly woman as she prepares to die. Albee admitted in interviews that the play’s main character was directly inspired by his own adoptive mother, Frances Cotter Albee, who expelled a young Albee from his family’s home for his homosexuality and later removed him from her will. The play won numerous awards, including Albee’s third Pulitzer Prize—his second was for Seascape—and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award. Albee won a Tony Award for best play in 2001 for The Goat: Or, Who Is Sylvia?

In many of Albee’s plays there is little outward action; thus attention is focused on the language. Seascape continues this technique. Scholars have generally considered Albee’s use of language to be one of his major assets and contributions to American theater. While Seascape received considerable negative criticism about both its vitality and its language, especially in the production reviews, some critics commended Albee on these same points. Albee’s language, distinct for each play, has continued to be a rich source of material for scholars to examine.

An experimenter with dramatic styles and techniques, Albee has frequently broken out of the realistic mode of traditional theater to become recognized as an avant-garde writer who uses a variety of techniques to explore modern experience. Seascape returned to a more traditional structure and a more affirmative view of life than readers and viewers had come to expect; it was criticized by some for lack of profundity.

Albee’s plays have been the subject of an enormous amount of critical analysis. Judgments are mixed about such elements as his dialogue, characterization, and view of human existence. Albee’s theatrical devices align him with Harold Pinter and Samuel Beckett, and he has publicly acknowledged the influence of Thornton Wilder. Certainly he is one of America’s more important playwrights, as well as one of the most controversial.

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Critical Overview