Critical Overview

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Last Updated on May 11, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 531

Before Albee won the Pulitzer Prize for drama for Seascape, many critics reacted negatively to the first production. Only a few had generally positive responses. One was Clive Barnes of the New York Times who writes, "What Mr. Albee has given us here is a play of great density, with many interesting emotional and intellectual reverberations." The Nation"s Harold Clurman places Seascape in a positive context in terms of Albee's development as a playwright. He believes, "It is his most relaxed play, a 'philosophical' whimsy. You may find it delightful.... It is a step in Albee's still green career, a step which, seen in a certain light, augurs well for the future. In an agreeable sense, it is a 'little' play."

Other critics had a more mixed response to Seascape. While they found something to praise, other aspects brought the experience down for them. John Beaufort of the Christian Science Monitor writes, "As cerebral comedies go, Seascape is provocative and tantalizing rather than profound, and perhaps too whimsical for its own good." Edwin Wilson of the Wall Street Journal wants more from Albee. He argues, "The disappointing thing is that the playwright, having given himself a theatrical device with potential and the performers to make it work, has proceeded to squander his opportunities."

Many critics who wrote mixed reviews commented on Albee's use of language. This had been a positive point in many of Albee's previous plays, and critics were divided over its success in Seascape. Howard Kissel of Women"s Wear Daily believes, "Albee's lines have a pleasurable cadence, a naturally engaging rhythm even if they seldom grow out of character or intensify the admittedly diffuse drama." In his more negative review, Jack Kroll of Newsweek writes, "In Seascape that long-windedness has become a constipated language that moves in colonic spasms.... Albee achieves only the ultimate in pure nagging."

A number of critics could find little redeeming value to Seascape. Commenting on the use of the lizards, Stanley Kauffmann of the New Republic writes, "This is hardly a startlingly original idea for a play, but it's not a bad one. The play itself is bad—because it is nothing more than its idea." The New York Post's Martin Gottfried shares Kauffmann's negative opinion. Gottfried argues. "There is no way for Seascape to be touching because there is so little craftsmanship in it, so little artistry and, crucially, so little humanity and heart."

After its original run and its Pulitzer Prize, Seascape was still performed on a regular basis, primarily in repertory productions. Critical opinion generally became more positive with time. Of a 1996 production in San Francisco, Steven Winn of the San Francisco Chronicle writes, "Fanciful and philosophical, like many of the playwright's more abstruse chamber pieces, it also flashes the combustive marital combat and dismay that ignited Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? 34 years ago." However, not all critics were completely positive. Of a 1998 production in Los Angeles, Robert Koehler of the Los Angeles Times argues, "Even when Edward Albee is not at his best—and with Seascape, his language and character dynamics feel wearied—his work is the result of a distinctive mind obsessively probing life's recesses for meaning."

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Critical Context


Essays and Criticism