Saturday, February 14, 2009

Gibbering Greatness 2/14/09

Only exceptionally rational men can afford to be absurd.

Allan Goldfein
Happy heart-on-your-sleeve day.
I came of age as an actor at the same time the Theatre of the Absurd. Although the movement began at the end of the Second World War, it didn't hit the major stages of the world until the late 50s and 60s. The major "absurdist" writers who crossed my path then were Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco, Fernando Arabal and Herold Pinter. There are many others.

The term "Theatre of the Absurd" was pasted on them by a writer named Martin Esslin, a Hungarian/American author who wrote a book with that title. The "absurdist" writing arose out of an existential philosophy, notably that of Albert Camus, that looked at what appeared to be a senseless, hopeless life and tried to explain it, or at least find a place in it. And as with any important revolutionary movement in art, there has been more criticism written about it than there are plays.

The plays are a tearing apart of situations, places, language, characters and relationships, but that doesn't make them depressing or nihilistic. In fact many of the plays have almost a vaudevillian quality to them. For us in the theatre they were a joy to find and experience simply because "common sense," the rules of human behavior and rituals of conduct were thrown out. Characters did not behave in a rational way, nor was their world a rational environment. But throughout them there was the intellect working to redefine existence and establish new myths in order to make life comfortable in an uncomfortable, atom bomb world.

The great masterpiece of the time is Sameul Beckett's play "Waiting For Godot" which appeared on Broadway with Bert Lahr and E. G. Marshall. Audiences and critics didn't understand it. It was also performed at San Quentin prison. The prisoners understood it completely. Someone suggested that maybe the New York drama critics should spend some time in prison, which might not be a bad idea on several levels.

I had the great pleasure of performing one of the roles in "Godot" a few years ago and even at that late date people were still unable to grasp what the play was about: it has no boy-meets-girl, no detective solving a crime, no domestic drama. It's a play in which nothing happens but everything happens. To understand it one needs a sense of humor, a sense of the absurd..

Last Thanksgiving evening I was here alone with a stove/oven that didn't work, I had a stack of canned food to eat and, behold, my can opener broke. My Thanksgiving dinner was bread, peanut butter and bananas. That was theatre of the absurd, and if you don't think that was funny you've got no sense of humor.

The Vagabond Journeys
Someone is thinking good thoughts about you right now. Think back.


Beth said...

I remember that, and that we wrote about the absurdity of it all!

You know, you've inspired me. I have never seen "Waiting For Godot," and I think that's a serious lack in my experience. I will try to remedy that soon. I suspect I'd like it.

Have a wonderful weekend, D.

Love, Beth

Gerry said...

I had a great experience seeing "Chairs" by Ionesco in New York around 10 years ago done by an English Company and there could have been no actors better for this play. Albee plays, Pinter plays, they are for polished actors, really masters of the trade doing plays that require such. But you get absurdist drama when you present new plays to audiences and critics that just don't get it, then you are outside the box while Pinter and Albee are in. If you become a famous playwright long enough you will be establishment. My motto is to look to the new playwright, connect to somebody and create a new drama. Living drama everywhere you go.

Ben said...

It's true, and the situation reaches out into so many other areas - in the arts, certainly, but in any number of life areas as well - where we abandon the cerebral for a quick adrenaline boost or an easy McResolution.


Bucko (a.k.a., Ken) said...

Good thing your stove breaking was before this peanut contamination sitaution. That could have been a double whammy.

Big Mark 243 said...

Very interesting post!! I too, have not been fortunate enough to see 'Godot' performed, but have wanted to.

Absurd theatre IMO, sounds like something that approaches real life, and that is why it escapes so many critics, perhaps?

Arlene (AJ) said...

Have just a sec to be on the computer today, but wanted to say a "Happy Valentine's Day" to you. As always a good read dear.

Janice said...

We don't have many plays around this neck of the woods but I did read Godot last year or so. Like waiting for a Wisconsin Spring. My stove broke once and all I had in the house was pizza so I cooked it on the grill, it was the worst thing I ever tasted. My kids and I laugh about that a lot.