Places: A Delicate Balance

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1966

First produced: 1966, at the Martin Beck Theatre, New York City

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Absurdist

Time of work: October, in the mid-1960’s

Places DiscussedAgnes and Tobias’s home

Agnes Delicate Balance, Aand Tobias’s home. Home of a married couple whose living room is the setting for the entire play. Edward Albee’s stage directions describe the set as the “living room of a large and well-appointed suburban house.” This room contains a library, chairs, a supply of liquor bottles, and an arched entryway. Albee provides remarkably few other details about the set, but the fact that the room is “well-appointed” indicates that it should reflect its residents’ affluence, class, and taste. However, their affluence provides no protection against a family implosion–the imminent psychological collapse that Agnes fears, the gray ineffectualness of Tobias, the failure of their daughter Julia’s four marriages, the alcoholism of Agnes’s sister Claire.

Outside the walls of the house looms an equally terrifying if less readily definable menace that draws Agnes and Tobias’s friends Edna and Harry into their home to seek haven as well. After eating dinner at their own home, they suddenly and unaccountably became frightened and can no longer endure remaining alone in their house. Agnes offers them Julia’s room for the night, and they retire. What troubles Edna and Harry is an overwhelming meaninglessness, a realization of the “absurd,” a glimpse of the existential void.

Other playwrights treated similar themes in the decade preceding A Delicate Balance. What Albee did was to domesticate this theme, presenting a more affluent American setting and characters from whom, presumably, primarily middle-class theatergoers in the United States would feel less estranged and by whom they would be at least initially less discomfited.

BibliographyAmacher, Richard E. Edward Albee. Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne, 1982. A fine overview of Albee’s plays and career. Considers the influence of the Theater of the Absurd on Albee’s work.Bigsby, C. W. E. Albee. Edinburgh, Scotland: Oliver & Boyd, 1969. Identifies Albee’s liberal humanistic and existential concerns. An excellent analysis of Albee’s thought, with a perceptive discussion of A Delicate Balance.Bigsby, C.W.E., ed. Edward Albee, 1975.Bloom, Harold, ed. Modern Critical Views: Edward Albee, 1987.Hirsch, Foster. Who’s Afraid of Edward Albee?, 1978.Kolin, Philip C., ed. Conversations with Edward Albee, 1988.Kolin, Philip C., and J. Madison Davis, eds. Critical Essays on Edward Albee, 1986.McCarthy, Gerry. Edward Albee, 1987.Paolucci, Anne. From Tension to Tonic: The Plays of Edward Albee. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1972. One of the most insightful studies available. Focuses on Albee’s use of language, especially metaphor and irony. Contains a chapter on A Delicate Balance.Roudané, Matthew. Understanding Edward Albee. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1987. An excellent starting point for the study of Albee’s work. Traces the development of his affirmative existential vision.Rutenberg, Michael E. Edward Albee: Playwright in Protest. New York: DBS, 1969. Written with Albee’s cooperation. Concentrates on political and social dimensions of Albee’s work. Contains two interviews and an interesting analysis of A Delicate Balance from a sociological point of view.Stenz, Anita Maria. Edward Albee: The Poet of Loss, 1978.Wasserman, Julian N., ed. Edward Albee: An Interview and Essays, 1983.
Categories: Places