Critical Context

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 450

Tiny Alice is one of Edward Albee’s more mystifying dramatic scripts; however, its themes recur in several of his plays. The Zoo Story (pr. 1959) dramatizes middle-class complacency in conflict with the desperation of a societal outsider to communicate. Box and Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung (pr. 1968), about apathy as self-destruction and committed action as its remedy, portray human isolation as a direct consequence of passivity in the arts as well as in life. Listening (pr., pb. 1977) illustrates both the internal and the interactive alienation effects of not listening.

Moreover, Albee repeats these themes within the context of familial relationships. The Sandbox (pr., pb. 1960) and The American Dream (pr., pb. 1961) present society’s denigration of the aged as well as the pretenses and the sterility of marital relationships most vividly dramatized in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (pr., pb. 1962). A Delicate Balance (pr. 1966) demonstrates the effects of a series of crises upon individuals and their relationships. In this script, Albee also investigates the stress caused by balancing one’s own needs with those of others. In Seascape (pr., pb. 1975), two couples, one human and one fictional intelligent water animals, focus on the necessity of, and the resistance to, change for survival. The Lady from Dubuque (pr., pb. 1980) exhibits strains of both Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and Tiny Alice while dealing with relationships of couples to one another in the face of death and intrusive strangers. All Over (pr., pb. 1971) also deals with the death experience, but from the perspective of loved ones who recognize the loneliness of the ultimate isolation.

Albee has also crusaded against metaphysical disintegration within other dramatic contexts. The Death of Bessie Smith (pr., pb. 1960) portrays death as the consequence of human fear manifested as racial bigotry. Fam and Yam (pr., pb. 1960) exhorts the theater world to rejuvenate and to become responsible for itself. The Man Who Had Three Arms (pr., pb. 1982) comically satirizes everyone concerned with the lecture circuit: association, agent, speaker, audience, and press, as well as the lecture process itself. Albee functions as a social prophet pointing to the need for committed reform that he believes is necessary for humanity to avoid its own self-created annihilation.

Edward Albee is a controversial experimentalist who resists arbitrary dramatic patterns and who finds imitation stultifying. Although he has won such public accolades as the Pulitzer Prize, the Tony, the New York Drama Critics Circle Award, and the Foreign Press Association Award, critical and audience response has often been both bewildered and bewildering. A significant playwright in the American absurdist theater, Edward Albee does not lead movements; rather, with ingenuity, conviction, and wit, he opens the way for greater experimentation and freedom of dramatic expression.

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Critical Overview