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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Meaning? What Meaning?: Why Bobby Keniston Loves the Theatre of the Absurd

While I Do Not Advocate Smoking, I DO Advocate Samuel Beckett, particularly Wating For Godot
Hello everyone, and welcome to Theater is a Sport.  I am your host.  My name is Bobby Keniston, and I will be your host on this blog. That's right, I'm your host.  (repetition is key in so many things)  If you're worried about reading a blog about theater by some random guy , I will happily tell you that I have been a lifelong student of theater, in acting, directing and playwriting.  In fact, I'm a playwright with over 20 published titles (please don't feel bad if you haven't heard of me). 

Judging by the title of this post, and the picture of Mr. Samuel Beckett, I am sure you clever folks must know that today's post is about the Theatre of the Absurd.  What it is, some of the biggest names involved, and, really, why I like it so much.  You might even say I love it.  Well, not all of it, of course, but, if I were forced to choose my favorite type of theatre, I mean, was literally FORCED, I would probably answer Theatre of the Absurd.  A big reason will become clear from the pictures of people you will see throughout this post, including Mr. Beckett above, and this fellow below:

Harold Pinter, Nobel Laureate in Literature, and, on some days, my favorite playwright (and in my top five on all days)
Let's start off simply enough with a definition:

THEATRE OF THE ABSURD:  
Theatrical movement beginning in the 1950s in which playwrights created works representing the universe as unknowable and humankind’s existence as meaningless.

Of course, origins of Theatre of the Absurd date back before the 1950s, even all the way back to the tragicomedies of Elizabethan Theatre.  In fact, the mode, or "genre" (for lack of a better word) of most Absurdist plays is tragicomedy.  To quote the play Endgame by Mr. Beckett, "Nothing is funnier than unhappiness.... it's the most comical thing in the world".  Arthur Kopit's 1964 Absurdist masterpiece (at least a masterpiece in my opinion)  Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feeling So Sad, is subtitled as A Pseudoclassical Tragifarce in a Bastard French Tradition, and that is certainly a dark comedy that achieves a sense of tragedy as well. 

And, yes, Theatre of the Absurd began as a French movement. 

Okay, let's look at some characteristics of Theatre of the Absurd:

---  Theatre of the Absurd, as mentioned before, puts into question the meaning of humankind's existence, and often finds that there is absolutely none.  Building on this point, Theatre of the Absurd often presents a protagonist who is almost a puppet to some unseen force, with no control whatsoever to the world around him (forgive the pronoun). 

---  Because life is not backed by any sense of meaning, in the Theatre of the Absurd, logical communication ceases to exist, leading to a complete breakdown of communication and, well, eventually and inevitably, silence.  A simpler way to say this is that many playwrights dipping into the Absurd will play with language a great deal.  One need only to the character Lucky in Waiting for Godot for an example of communication going completely haywire.  Mr. Pinter, who, as I mentioned, is a favorite of mine, says so much in his pauses.  I don't know if there is a playwright who uses ellipses (...) as well as he does. 

--- Some Theatre of the Absurd almost actively wants to parody the notion of what constitutes as a well-made play.  Look at Eugene Ionesco's The Bald Soprano, which he called "an anti-play".  In fact, why not take a look at this picture of Mr. Ionesco:
Mr. Ionesco, no doubt on the lookout for a charging rhinoceros
--- A good deal of Theatre of the Absurd mixes a kind of interesting stew of broad comedy, even Vaudevillian or slapstick (see Waiting for Godot--- Beckett loved Vaudeville), and mixes it with horrific things and tragedy.  After all, in a world without meaning, there is bound to be severe tonal shifts, wouldn't you say?

--- Many Absurdists plays may have a cyclical nature, in some ways representing the idea of humankind making the same damn mistakes over and over again. 

---- Big old wordplay.  Some of my favorite comes from Tom Stoppard in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, like their wonderful game of questions or referrng to England as "a conspiracy of cartographers". 

Why do I love the Theatre of the Absurd?   Look, I'm not a literary critic, I just know what I like, and largely, what I like are things that effect me viscerally.  Things I feel deep in my bones and that stay with me long afterwards.  There are many types of plays and musicals that do this for me, but, the largest percentage is represented by the Theatre of the Absurd.  I dig it when I go from laughing to being shocked.  I enjoy having to think about why something is making me feel the way it does.  I like the bold audacity that is represented in so many Absurdist works.  And, truly, I like playwrights who ask the big questions and aren't afraid of not giving answers (because, well, to the really big questions, there aren't any). 

Here is a partial list of some of my favorite Absurdist plays that I recommend to anyone and everyone (no particular order, just as I think of them) :

Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett
Happy Days by Samuel Beckett
The Caretaker by Harold Pinter
A Slight Ache by Harold Pinter
The Dumb Waiter by Harold Pinter
The Maids by Jean Genet
A Night Out by Harold Pinter
The Chairs by Eugene Ionesco
The Zoo Story by Edward Albee
Rhionoceros by Eugene Ionesco
Endgame by Samuel Beckett
The Homecoming by Harold Pinter
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead by Tom Stoppard
Exit the King by Eugene Ionesco
The Killer by Eugene Ionesco
Amedee or How to Get Rid of It by Eugene Ionesco
Jack or the Submission by Eugene Ionesco
Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feeling So Sad by Arthur Kopit
God by Woody Allen
The Sandbox by Edward Albee
The American Dream by Edward Albee
The Nature and Purpose of the Universe by Christopher Durang
Firebugs by Max Frisch

Okay, so that's only a partial list, but there are plenty more.  That's enough to get anyone interested started, however.

Thanks for checking out my blog today.  Feel free to follow the links below to find out more about me.  In the meantime, life can be absurd, so it's important to remember that theater is a sport.  Bye bye.
https://www.facebook.com/#!/TheaterIsASport
https://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Bobby-Keniston-Playwright-Page/148232788536601

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