Absurdism and Postmodernism
The Absurdist Trend
This week we are taking a look at two different, but I would argue related topics that both develop from responses to World War II.
We’ll start with Absurdism. The term was coined by critic Martin Esslin in an essay where he looked at the output of a number of European playwrights and the kind of material that they were producing. Below, you’ll watch the Crash Course Theatre History on the topic. It is very important to note, however, that the characteristics of absurdism are also found in a number of North African and Latin American writers of the period in particular.
I’d like you to start by reading Romanianbon playwright Eugène Ionesco’s very short play, “Salutations” before you watch the contextual video. Ionesco is most well-known for his full-length play, Rhinocerous, and his one-act, The Bald Soprano.
The play can be found via the Internet Archive and you will need to ‘check the book out’ for an hour.
The play begins on page 165 of Hunger and Thirst, and Other Plays. Trans. Donald Watson. New York: Grove Press. 1969.
Having read this short absurdist piece, please learn a bit more about Ionesco and Samuel Beckett and the Theatre of the Absurd.
Osvaldo Dragún was an Argentinian playwright and director of the Teatro Nacional Cervantes. Active from the 1950s through to his death in 1999, he worked in a number of styles. Most of his plays are political in some way, often responding to conditions in Argentina that could be very repressive for theatre makers.
“The Man Who Turned Into A Dog.” This is an amateur-produced translation available online. The play was originally produced at the independent Teatro Popular Fray Mocho in 1957.
Beckett remains an extremely important and influential playwright. Most well-known for his full-length play Waiting for Godot, Beckett was a prolific writer of short pieces.
“Not I” as filmed by the first actress to perform the piece, Billie Whitelow, as part of a series of Beckett plays that were filmed.
Two VERY short plays: “Breath”(pg 10) and “Act Without Words II” (pg. 30) from Breath and Other Shorts. London: Farber and Farber. 1975.
6 Renditions of “Breath” (playlist)
How did these different versions of “Breath” make you feel? Did you respond positively or negatively to any version in particular? What do you think the intention of the piece is? Does it vary? In general, what do you think of Beckett, Ionesco, Dragun, or Theatre of the Absurd?