Arion Lyre

92. A Delicate Balance by Edward Albee, with illustrations by Tom Holland

A Delicate Balance, a play by Edward Albee, with an introduction by David Littlejohn, and illustrations by Tom Holland, September 2011.

Arion Press is pleased to announce the publication of another work in its drama series, honoring one of America’s great contemporary playwrights, Edward Albee.

Following American Buffalo by David Mamet, published in 1992; A Lie of the Mind by Sam Shepard, 1993; The Price by Arthur Miller, 1999; Arcadia by Tom Stoppard, 2001; Tartuffe by Molière, translated by Richard Wilbur, 2004; and Godot by Samuel Beckett, 2006; the seventh in the series is A Delicate Balance by Edward Albee.


Edward Albee was born in 1928. His adoptive father was the son of a vaudeville magnate and owned several theaters. Albee attended Choate School and Trinity College in Connecticut, but he was a rebellious student and his formal education was incomplete.

His first play was The Zoo Story (1958). He has received three Pulitzer Prizes for drama: for A Delicate Balance (1967), Seascape (1975), and Three Tall Women (1994). Other well-known plays are The Sandbox (1959), Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1962), and The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? (2002). He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1972 and received a Gold Medal in Drama from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters in 1980, a special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2002, and the Kennedy Center Honors and the National Medal of Arts, both in 1996.

Albee lives in New York City. He is a professor at the University of Houston, where he teaches an annual playwriting course. He is President of the Edward F. Albee Foundation, which maintains the William Flanagan Memorial Creative Persons Center, a writers and artists colony in Montauk, New York.


A mature couple, Agnes and Tobias, he recently retired, lead upper-middle-class lives of quiet desperation. They reside in a Northeastern suburb where servants still cook dinner, the country club plays a major role, and living room bars are always well stocked. They have to deal with what appear to be four permanent, unwanted house guests. Agnes’s alcoholic sister Claire is already resident; then Henry and Edna, their “best friends”, arrive, too frightened (of something) to stay at home; finally, Tobias’s and Agnes’s daughter Julia moves back home again, having left her fourth husband.

David Littlejohn, in his perceptive introduction, asks: “By what verbal and imaginative magic does Albee manage to transform stories as mean and vicious as these, relationships so full of contentiousness and spite, into profound and moving theatrical experiences?

“[Albee] rarely talks or writes about his writing methods. But he has, I think, given us a clue. ‘Musical composition should be studied by playwrights,’ he said in an interview. ‘I find play construction and musical composition enormously similar.’ A playwright, he believes, can notate his work as precisely as a composer. It’s not so much a matter of stage directions—although Albee’s, however minimal, can be precise and demanding. ‘The playwright should be able to write a line and notate it in such a way that it’s impossible for an actor to say the line incorrectly.’

“In his stage directions, Albee specifically calls Tobias’s long, near-hysterical, self-contradictory third-act outburst in front of Harry, his ‘best friend’ and life invader, an ‘aria’. Throughout it, he provides dynamic and tonal advice, in the manner of a composer or conductor—phrases all in capital letters, semicolons and dashes, ellipsis dots, exclamation points and question marks (often together)—and stage directions that are the equivalent of a composer’s marginal notations.”

Littlejohn concludes: “Albee is the most astute musician on the modern American non-musical stage, as well as its most brilliant rhetorician.”


David Littlejohn has been reviewing and writing about theater and the other arts in California and internationally since 1965, first for KQED-TV and the PBS (then NET) network, as their “Critic at Large”. He has served as a West Coast cultural correspondent for The Wall Street Journal since 1990. He and his late wife Sheila read the parts of George and Martha in Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? twice at Harvard and twice at the University of California, Berkeley, where he taught for 35 years. For Arion Press, he wrote the introduction to Godot, on Samuel Beckett and William T. Wiley.


Tom Holland is an artist who lives and works in Berkeley, California. He was born in Seattle, Washington, in 1936. He studied at Willamette University, Salem, Oregon; the University of California, Santa Barbara; and University of California, Berkeley. After college, he went to Chile on a Fulbright grant, then began teaching at the San Francisco Art Institute. He has also been on the faculties of the University of California, Los Angeles, and the University of California, Berkeley. He received a National Endowment for the Arts grant and a Guggenheim Fellowship.

Since the 1970s, Holland has painted on materials other than canvas, such as fiberglass and aluminum, works that combine painting and sculpture. Unframed wall hangings and free-standing objects are made up of cut pieces riveted together, with epoxy paint applied. He also makes works on paper and of marble and copper.

Works of Tom Holland are in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim Museum, and the Whiney Museum in New York City, The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Walker Art Museum in Minneapolis, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Edward Albee is a friend of Tom Holland and has work by Holland in his extensive art collection. It was Albee who suggested Holland at the artist for this book, an idea welcomed by publisher Andrew Hoyem, who has long been an admirer of Holland’s art.


There are three illustrations in the book and one on the front cover. These are reproductions of watercolors, printed digitally and tipped into and onto the book.

As Littlejohn writes in his introduction: “Drinking, as Tom Holland’s illustrations suggest, plays a large part in this play—almost as large a part as in Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? I count about twenty-three glasses of hard liquor onstage in A Delicate Balance (plus Agnes’s reference to good wine at dinner).”

Tom Holland has made abstract images of bottles and glasses that appear at the beginnings of the three acts and an abstraction of a house for the cover. These cunning watercolors look like stained glass windows with sunlight shining through.


The book is large octavo, 6-1/4 by 9-1/4 inches, 172 pages. The types are Monotype American Garamond and Univers, printed by letterpress on Revere, an Italian mould-made paper. The binding has a purple goatskin spine, with title stamped in silver foil, and lavender cloth over the boards, with an inset area on the front cover containing the Holland watercolor.


A Delicate Balance is published on the occasion of the opening of the Aurora Theatre Company’s season in September 2011, its twentieth anniversary, with a new production of this play by Edward Albee, through the good offices of Paul Templeton. The edition is limited to 300 numbered copies for sale, of which 50 copies are reserved for the Aurora Theatre Company, and 26 lettered copies for complimentary distribution. A portion of the edition is reserved for Arion Press subscribers. All copies are signed by the playwright. The price is $500 per copy.

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