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Why Absurdist Theater is Cool and the People Who Love Them

The Thespian Thoughts blog posts are meant to be a college student’s point of view on various topics in the world of theater to educate all on what encompasses this particular area of the arts.

One of my favorite genres in theater is Absurdism. Absurdist theater or rather “Theatre of the Absurd”is a classification of plays starting after World War II that depict what happens in a world where nothing has meaning or purpose leading to all communication breaking down.

The characters within these worlds are always stuck in a strange but hopeless situation in which their actions are repetitive and pointless. Their dialogue is often riddled with clichés, wordplay, and just plain nonsense. However there is always at least one character that the audience is meant to identify with as they are often the most “normal”, meaning that they are written to be just as lost as the audience and are experiencing the events of the play in real time with them and display genuine reactions.

The events that happen are purposefully unrealistic. Reason surrenders to the irrational and illogical, but that does not mean that Absurdist plays themselves do not have meaning. They are simply using nonsense to prove a larger point. The plots of Absurdist plays are most often a parody or commentary on the current political and social climate around the time in which they were written. The plays serve to make a statement on the negative ideologies surrounding the issue. For example, Eugene Ionesco’s Absurdist play Rhinoceros is about a world in which humans are slowly transforming into Rhinoceroses and causing destruction. By the end of the play all of the cast have morphed into the beasts except the everyman character Bérenger who throughout the play has been very critical and paranoid of the Rhinoceroses. While this sounds like a silly scenario, the play has been interpreted as Ionesco’s response to the rise of Fascism and Nazism that preceded World War II in terms of conformity, mass movements, mob mentality and morality.

Dramatist Martin Esslin said that Absurdist plays ask the viewer to “draw his own conclusions, make his own errors” meaning that even though Theatre of the Absurd may be seen as nonsense at a surface level, deeper down they have something to say and can be understood. By reading and watching these plays, we are able to see the absurdity in our own society but lucky for us, we have the logic to fix it.



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