Sunday, September 19, 2010

A Delicate Balance by Edward Albee (1967)

Summary:  Agnes and Tobias are a married couple living in the comfort of the suburbs, clearly affluent enough to never discuss working outside of the home or any sort of financial strain.  Instead, they spend much of their time finding creative and emotionally destructive ways to fight with each other, often surrounding the topic of Claire—a seemingly permanent houseguest (and the alcoholic younger sister of Agnes).  There is news that their 30(ish) year-old daughter Julia is expected back home, fresh off her fourth failed marriage.  In a dramatic break from the routine, Edna and Harry arrive at the end of Act 1.  They are, apparently, Agnes and Tobias’s closest friends.  More interestingly, they are suddenly terrified of being alone in their house, for reasons unspecified throughout the play.

Thoughts:  So many of the plays I have read thus far have been about the way that couples fight with each other, but there is nothing reminiscent of polite veneer (Dinner with Friends, Rabbit Hole, The Subject was Roses) in this play.  Agnes and Tobias know how to hurt each other, and their fighting is reminiscent of another more famous Albee couple—George and Martha (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?)  They fight about Claire, they fight about Julia, they fight about Edna and Harry…they fight, seemingly, because they love to fight and excel at it.

The dialogue in this play is interesting enough to make it remarkable, but the play comes to an absolute stunning halt at the end of Act 1 when Edna exclaims, “WE WERE FRIGHTENED….AND THERE WAS NOTHING” (47).  Tobias, Agnes and Claire attempt to figure out what is going on…and the last line of Act 1, only two pages later is Claire’s response, “Don’t you know yet?  (small chuckle)  You will.”  We never know definitively what this fear is—the hints are towards nuclear war, but no one ever says outright.  Eventually, the play ends with a long monologue by Tobias concerning the nature of friendship, love and responsibility.

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