Sei sulla pagina 1di 10

TEATRU MODERN ENGLEZ I AMERICAN Conf. univ. dr.

RUXANDRA TEODORESCU Specialitatea A i B Semestrul II OBIECTIVE The objective of the course is to provide the students with the necessary competences for understanding, analysing and discussing a modern play, based on information and suggestions included in the lectures and the support materials. The course is structured on seven, loosely sequential units which focus on the main themes proposed at the end of this brief survey: a) the stage and the text- continuity and discontinuity; b) the plays and the society-realistic drama, comedy of manners, problem plays, plays of social revolt and anger; c) tradition (myth) and experiment in American theatre. 1 In 1642, when The Puritans were in power, Parliament declared that the public plays shall cease and be foreborne. Charles I was executed in 1649, and not until 1660, when Charles II was restored to the throne, were English theatres reopened. The Elisabethan theatre had drawn their audiences from all levels of society, but The Restoration theatre attracted only Court society and the crowd of hangers on that gravitated around the aristocrats. The Restoration playhouse was basically the modern playhouse (The Italian stage) with a rather small house/auditorium/former pit/and a stage at one end. Though the stage jutted out into the audience / a vestige of the Elizabethan stage) this apron was to shrink as the decades passed and the Restoration playhouse, with its scene at the rear, its wings and the curtain rising at the beginning of each play and coming down at the end, was not well adapted to the multiplicity of scenes that the unencumbered Elizabethan stages had handled so easily. The result was a different play-structure, the employment of a small cast and quite important the presence of women actresses. The Restoration comedy is partly a misleading term. The Restoration occurred in 1660 and the drama produced during the following decade was mostly romantically heroic, showing the adventures and refined sentiments of courtly men and ladies. The first characteristically Restoration comedy is Wycherleys The Country Wife produced in 1675; Restoration comedy continued to be produced into the first decade of the 18th century; George Farquahars The BeauxStratagem was written in 1707. Another name for the work of Congreve, Etherege, Wycherley, Farquahar is Comedy of Manners. Manners once had (in the 17th C) ethical implications / a mans manner included his character) but it was Charles Lamb (19th C.) who coined the term used it in its modern sense of social code as politeness. What first strikes one when looking at the plays of Congreve and the rest is their remoteness from the plays of Shakespeare and Jonson. In Jonsons plays (Volpone, 1606, The Alchemist, 1610) there are no important pairs of lovers while EveryMan in His Humor, 1598 has a marriage at the end but no courting scenes. Restoration comedy may resemble Jonsons in its concentration on city life but while the latter saw men as embodiements of humours or fixed patterns of behaviour with a physiological base, the former focus on social groups and create social types mirroring class behaviour. Restoration comedy is even remoter from Shakespeares in the sense that Shakespeares lovers undergo something new and overpowering, whether it is to be made of sighs and tears or full of joy and mirth. Restoration comedy is largely built on witty lovers who are consummate players of the game and adept at concealing their emotion and affecting indifference. Basically Restoration comedy deals with a small courtly society that is too sophisticated to admit it loves, yet it knows everything about the game and sexuality fills the air as the men and women intrigue their way towards marriage and money. In The Way of the World, even the old do not easily admit their impotence: lady Wishfort admits that she looks like an old peeled wall but Mirabel knows she will be flattered even by a lampoon that accuses her of an affair with a young fellow. On the whole, it is a libertine and moneyconscious society, at war with itself, occasionally pausing in its war for the possession of a spouses legacy to laugh at absurd clergymen, ill-mannered squires or pedantic scholars. Samuel Johnson said that Congreves comedies consist in gay remarks and expected answers.

His personages are a kind of intellectual gladiators; every sentence is to wound or strike. This remark should be kept in mind with reference to G.B. Shaws plays that lack action but the characters do not fight with swords or fans; their deeds are their verbal encounters. Congreve insisted that his comedies were moral and his word should be kept in mind as they fit many other comic writerswork. Men are to be laughed out of their vices in comedy; the business of comedy is to delight as well as to instruct; and as vicious people are made ashamed of their follies and faults by seeing them exposed in a ridiculous manner, so are good people at once both warned and diverted at their expense. Finally, it should be mentioned that The Way of The World is not a sermon but a dramatic representation of human life as may excite mirth. The anticipated wedding and the dance near its end suggest the joy, unity, fertility and triumph of sex which comedy usually celebrates but which are kept within lawful bounds. 2 Focus on theater with a mission, plays that world make the audience sit up and think rather than relax in their seats and be amused, for plays that were openly moral and overtly problematic, is G.B. Shaws clearly stated concern at a time when melodramas, light comedies and vaudeville filled the Victorian scene. Indeed, Shaws diagnosis of the decadent state of the theatre and his proposals for a reform of the drama have a modernity which many of his plays appear to lack. In his view, discussion was to be the centre of a play; the well made play that was constructed with an exposition in the first act, a situation in the second and an unravelling in the third was to be replaced by one with an exposition followed by situation and discussion or which begin with discussion and end with action or one in which discussion and action interpenetrate. In his own words again: ... the drama arises through a conflict of unsettled ideals rather than through vulgar attachments, rapacities, generosities, resentments, ambitions, misunderstandings, oddities and so forth as to which the moral question is raised. The conflict is not between clear right and wrong; the villain is as conscientious as the hero if not more so; in fact the question that makes the play interesting (when it is interesting) is which is the villain and which is the hero. Or, to put it another way, there are no villains and no heroes. Shaw is the creator and most remarkable representative of the problem play (outside T.S.Eliot perhaps). In such a play the interest resides in the vivacity of the dispute, the conflict between ideas which are given a general validity but attributed to characters and situations which are not entirely credible as they serve as props or frames for the ideas in conflict. Of special interest are, perhaps, the plays in which the background and/or the character are historical icons like Caesar, Cleopatra or Joan of Arc. In The Devils Disciple it is the context that is historical (The American Civil War) but in his typical paradoxical treatment of history, he stuffs it with everything from the ragbag of melodrama; reading of a will heroic sacrifice, court-martial, gallows, eleventh hour reprieve. There is however a finely set balance of oppositions that allows the paradox mechanism to function easily and smoothly; the vitality, romanticism and idealism of Dick Dudgeon is matched by the intelligence and aristocracy of General Burgoyne; the inhumanity of family and townspeople represents the system supported by organised religion and the stupidity of soldiers like Swindon and against which Dick rebels. Both Anderson and Judith undergo a conversion towards self-awareness and away from the conventional patterns of behaviour, the former realising that his calling is to be a man of action not a man of words, the latter that mawkish notions, of love and honour have little place when real principles and feelings are at stake. The improbable melodrama with its complete reversal of roles is acceptable because it is never taken seriously and because interest is kept alive by sparkling dialogue and the paradoxical treatment of the triangle Dick-Judith-Anderson. In Caesar and Cleopatra the interest again is not really in the dramatic history of the relationship between Cleopatra and Caesar but in two spheres of intellectual, cultural and artistic interest which meet, discuss, define their differences and separate. Both, in the process define the laws of their own natures and these are educated through conflict when their way of life is challenged and they are faced with the realities of choice and the realities of their positions, situations and reactions to them. Thus the life of Cleopatra in a sense begins where the play ends and the whole work is a test and a discarding of illusion. Arrogantly dismissing Shakespeare who unsurpassed as poet, storyteller, character draughtsman, humorist and rhetorician, has left us no intellectually coherent drama, and could not afford to pursue a genuinely scientific method in his studies of character and society, Shaw endeavoured to produce as closely Shakespearian a play as he could, in Saint-Joan. In it he took

a great romantic heroine and attacked the romances who misrepresented her in an important Preface. Yet, he admitted, the romance of her rise, the tragedy of the execution and the comedy of the attempt of posterity to make amends for that execution, belong to my play and not to my preface. Of the six scenes, the first five are devoted to Joans rise and military career the sixth to her trial and execution and the epilogue to the 20th century amends. There are here the usual Shavian comic techniques: the deflation of great names, explicit satire by statement, unromantic attitudes, yet they only compose a background of and a scaffolding for Joans outstanding character. Joan is Shaws conception of a saint (his other name for a Superman). With her commonsense about politics and fighting she is merely a sensible country girl, untouchable by corruption or romance. The positive elements of her mind, in Shows conception are her singleness of purpose and her sexlessness. She subordinates the facts of her person in order to become an uncomplicated instrument of the life Force of Creative evolution. No less important, in so far as they break new ground at least in intention are his dramatic comedies Mrs. Warrens Profession, Candida and aspecially Major Barbara. Using again Shaws own words as an argument: Comedy, as a destructive, derisory, critical, negative art kept the theatre open when sublime tragedy perished. From Molire to Oscar Wilde, we had a line of comedy playwrights who, if they had nothing fundamentally positive to say, were at least in revolt against falsehood and imposture and (...) were clealing our minds of cant, and thereby shewing an uneasiness in the presence of error which is the surest symptom of intellectual vitality. The social criticism in his plays is not directed against deviations from the norm but at the norm itself and he also turns from negative, destructive criticism to constructive proposals, ridiculing the ideas of yesterday and today so that he may offer a new idea for tomorrow. In Mayor Barbara his strategy is to show us the disillusionment of the heroine and the consequent beginning of a new life founded on more profond Shavian principles. The shattering of illusions, the paradoxical discovery (tragic as well as comic) that the money for the Salvation Army come from the making of war weapons cause Barbaras world of illusion to collapse and she cries out the Christic words Why God, why hast thou forsaken me? Immediately, however, her father, deflates the upsurge with. Come, come, my daughter! dont make too much of your little tinpot tragedy! The problems of the existence of evil and pain are covered by Shaw from metaphysical to sociologic and economic problems with available solutions. The solutions he offers, because they are new, must be presented at some length, hence the charge that his plays are all talk, but through the talk, ideas are set forth, allowed to clash and finally crystallize. As a dramatist who enlivened the theatrical scene of his time Shaw wrote in the tradition of Congreve, Goldsmith, Sheridan and Wilde. As a thinker, dramatising the conflict in his own mind, he reflected the intellectual scene of this time. As for his prose style, it still stands as a model. It is racy and lively without being exactly colloquial; it is balanced without being artificial. It is a kind of text a man with a good musical ear and training would write, smoothly and easily following the rhythms and intonations of speech while allowing for considerable variation. 3 If we are to define Look Back in Anger the dramatic movement which followed it, that of Angry Young Men must be considered in relation to the general tradition. Like in other cases in which tags are attached to groups of artists or trends it is only partly apposite. As Kenneth Tynan wrote: There is nothing new in young men being angry. Byron and Shelley were classically angry young men. American writers in the 1930s were on fire with anger: Dos Passos, Steinbeck and Odets come to mind. The ambition of the British novelists and poets in the 1950s hold the ambition to put ourselves and our situations on the stage which is, after all, the ambition of naturalism, in all its recurrent, ordinary forms. So, what of was felt as new, or special then is still of interest to audiences now? It is, possibly, the fact that Jimmy Porter is raging at himself though the raging at the others and at an intolerable general condition. The sickness of a society was therefore re-enacted in a particularly closed form the traditional room of the materialist theatre, shown as a Trap, with the sounds and messages of an opressive and frustrating world coming in from the outside and the sickening atmosphere

inside the room mirrors the diseased human relationship of an ailing society with Jimmy as its icon and in its centre. The drama was called ground-breaking, as a mark of the emergence of working class drama at a particular stage of cultural and social change in Britain but in our opinion it is something different because the life that we are shown is disorganised and pointless; youth, social status are there, but the general state of feeling matters more since here we have social experience translated as general, human restlessness, disorganization and frustration. The voice in Look Back in Anger was direct, aggressive; it represents the cruelty, despair and sentimentality of a trapped identifiable group. Unlike T.S. Eliots later play which also treated restlessnes and loss of direction but in a measured, poised, manneristic way, Osborne, Orden, Behan Wesker struck, as we said, a harsher, uncompromising note. The setting includes significant symbols (the bears and squirrels, the church bells, the ironing board, the Trumpet); one of them is, however, Jimmys personal appearance as the author gives it to us: ... He is a disconcerting mixture of sincerity and ... malice, of tenderness and freebooting cruelty; restless, important, full of pride, a combination which alienates the sensitive and the insensitive alike. (...) he is as vehement as he is almost non-committal. In his famous speech about no good, brave causes having been left for his generation to die for he says that the world has lost its meaning and should the End. come it would be as unglorios and pointless as stepping in front of a bus. What the play brings in is quite a subtle yet insidiously powerful way is an unsual complex, a kind of social despair combined with a fear and hatred of women. Raymond Williams developed a quite coherent reading of Look Back starting from Jimmys words in the same speech. No, theres nothing left for it, my boy but to let yourself be butchered by the women If we keep in mind the ancient Greek images and myths connected with the fearful power of women and think only in 20 th century termes (with Strindberg, Hemingway and Lawrence as possible examples) we came to a crux of the matter namely that the woman is made the bearer of society in a literal way: She just devours me whole every time, as if I were some overlarge rabbit. Thats me that bulge around her navel if youre wondering what it is its me. We, buried alive down there and going mad, smothered in that peaceful looking coil. The disturbance becomes a metaphor: the fear of adult relationships, the willing return (or regression) into a childs game, the irresponsible shifting from one female to another are made to simbolize a criticism of the world: of an obsolete and stupid, senile establishement, of a lack of causes. In a sense, always women are the bearers of society and here the woman is seen as the society which traps and swallows a particular self and is only acceptable (like Alison after she has lost her baby) when she renounces that role and will play in a frightened, make believe intimacy. If he can destroy that continuity, the physical fact of man born of women, the isolated man, the denying hero might find a possible, though subhuman role (that of an animal in a game, free from responsibility but also of meaning outside the game). 4 To open a discussion of Pinter and his early work (when he was associated to Beckett or Ionesco and dubbed a dramatist of the Absurd), we believe Martin Esslin is the most authorised voice. In his classic essays on the drama of the 1950s and 1960s he had this to say by way of describing the kind of work Pinter produced. If the drama of plot and character is akin to the narrative art, this type of play is essentially lyrical. If the conventional, well-made play unrolls before our eyes like a comic strip in which action proceeds from point A to point B, in this type of drama, as in a poem, we are witnessing the unfolding of a static pattern as that of a flower which gradually opens and reveals a structure that, however, has been present from the beginning. The two types of drama consequently have a completely different kind of suspense. In the conventional play we ask: what is going to happen next? How is it going to end? In this type of play we ask: what is happening? What is the nature of the pattern that is unfolding? Esslin continues: ... this kind of theatre that confronts the audience with a concrete pattern of poetic images (images of the theatrical kind, of cause o.n.) demands a positive effort of interpretation and appeals at the same time to a very deep layer of the subconscions mind. In this the Theatre of the Absurd is analogous to abstract painting and sculpture which also grip the spectator both on the level of the archetypal image (...) and on the level of a higly intellectual interpretative effort.

Like Beckett, Pinter wanted to communicate a sense of mystery and uncertainty in modern mans conventionalized and rationalized world. His very first play The Room contains in a nutshell many of the themes and patterns of his later, more elaborate efforts. The human existence is a closed universe, separated from the vast unknown by very thin partitions. It can shed some light upon mans surroundings, he may feel reasonably comfortable in his tightly woven cocoon which has only a weak point: a door. The ageing woman who is the main character of the play knows her room but nothing about the house and when the door opens she finds out that there are other people outside who have been told that there was a room to let in the dark and damp basement, the symbolism of which is too obvious to merit discussion. Another rather too crude symbol is that of the Blind Negro that clenches the allegorical, quasi-supernatural conflict, creating terror with the simplest of means. In the Birthday Party there is also an easy place for somleone (Stanley) to find even if it is a semi-derelict dingy boarding house. Here too, the unknown kafkaesque characters pursue and track Stanley down without us ever being sure of who they are, though we know what they stand for: any threat from anthority from the past, from the unknown. The play, however, achieves more complexity by a mixture of farce and melodrama. We have the idiom of naturalist comedy the deck chair attendant, the landlady, the lodger, the tart, the Irishman, the Jew but interlocked in that of the funambulesque, combining release of emotion and violence. It is the birthday party a modern version, perhaps of Dionysian rituals, with its drum, switching off of lights, the game of blind mans buff. Pinters dialogue here blends the methaphysical menace of Beckett with the terrifying platitudes of Ionesco. 5 ONeil was a selfconscious experimenter. He was eclectic to a fault, which after all, resulted in a diversity of techniques and innovations that boosted American theater into prominence. With The Great God Brown (1926) he experimented with masks and with Strange Interlude (1928) he tried to put life into the dramatic aside, using it as an expression of highly conscious subconscious. ONeills experiments with masks ancient in origin but modern in concept, were both an expression of his dissatisfaction with the theatre which he interited and an assertion about the direction in which he believed the theatre should go. He wrote: the use of masks will be discovered eventually to be the freest solution of the modern dramatists problem as to how, with the greatest possible dramatic clarity and economy of means, he can express those profound hidden conflicts of the conscious and the unconscious mind which the probing of psychology continue to disclose to us () With his old and more than a bit senile! standby of realistic technique, he can do no more, at best, than obscurely hint at it through a realistically disguised surface symbolism, superficial and misleading () A comprehensive expression is demanded here, a chance for eloquent presentation, a new form of drama projected from a fresh insight into the inner forces motivating the outer actions and reactions of men and women, a new inner characterization, in other words a drama of souls , and the adventures of free wills with the masks that govern them and constitute thir fate. In many ways this statement is the manifest of the new American theatre one which wished to dispense with an art of surface appropriately represented by the painted back drop, grandiloquent acting and relationary clichs dramatised through stage convention. For what at bottom, is this new psychological insight into human cause and effect asked ONeill but a study in masks, an exercise in unmasking? The dogma for new masked drama was that Ones outer life passes in a solitude haunted by the masks of others; ones inner life passes in a solitude haunted by the masks of oneself . In Mourning Becomes Electra (1932), his famous trilogy including Homecoming, the Hunted, the Haunted, ONeills maturity is quite apparent. His theme remained essentially the same as did the dominant image of the world as mask, but he had come to realize that it was possible to expose that inner world without resorting to the device of the aside. The mask itself, as an object, however, was no longer used because they obtrude themeselves too much into the foreground and because they introduce an obvious duality of character symbolism. As for the themes to come back to them, they concerned a sense of determinism in human affairs, and the principle that life was a dying. Being born was starting to die. Death

was being born, ONeills attraction to a Greek drama which had tackled such issues and which had so successfully caught the insecurities and spiritual needs of an ancient world, now found expression in a Trilogy deliberately based on AeschylusTrilogy. The time of the trilogy is the American Civil War, suitably remote and therefore possessing sufficient mask of time and space, so that audiences will unconsciously grasp at once that; it is primarily a drama of hidden life forces fate behind lives of characters. Additionally, it presented the advantage of providing the setting: a house built in imitation Greek style which at the same time creates a functional irony for the entire play. That is the New England time frame, with its Puritanical view of sexuality contrasted to the iconography of its Greek setting. The Trilogy presents the fated family life of the Mannons. In the previous generation David Mannon (Thyestes) is dispossessed by his brother Abe (Atreus) because he falls in love with a Canuck (part Canadian, part Indian) nurse whom his brother had himself desired. Indeed, not content with this, Abe actually demolishes the family home and builds a new one. These events are those that trigger off the chain of events that follow. David Mannons son, Adam Brant (Aegisthus) seeks vengeance on the Mannon family for his fathers suicide and his mothers death in indigence. He does this by seducing Christine (Clytemnestra), the wife of Ezra (Agamemnon). However, in doing so, he actually falls in love with her, but Christine and Ezras daughter, Lavinia, herself in love with Adam, discovers the truth. Christine and Brant conspire together to poison Ezra and succeed, but Lavinia convinces her brother Orin (Orestes) that their father had been murdered and that their mother was guilty. Ostensibly to revenge his father but in effect to revenge himself since his relationship with his mother is charged with sexuality, he shoots Brant. On hearing the news of her lovers death, Christine takes her own life, leaving Orin distraught. He can no longer stand the idea that his sister and himself should marry the placid, commonplace suitors that have patiently waited for them (Hazel and Peter Hermione and Pylades). Orin feels that by their abnormal act his sister and himself have placed themselves outside the normal a state symbolised by the incestuous proposal he makes to his sister. She finally buys his silence by renouncing her marriage, Orin kills himself, Lavinia remaining immolated inside the Mannon house to live with her Furies. The self destructive fatalism of Greek theatre, symbolised by the Furies is transmuted into a Calvinist conscience. When Christine turns to Brant she is trying to restore a bit of romance into a barren loveless life. In the Mannon family values are so distorted that there is a psychic in breeding which is probably the explanation of their selfdestructiveness. The physical resemblance of the Mannons underlines their closed world which feeds off itself and breeds only death. The mask - like faces, constantly referred to in the stage directions, express as elsewhere the unreal behind what we call reality which is the real reality the unrealistic truth wearing the mask of lying reality. The psychology is, indeed blatantly Freudian but the mask is at least now generated by character. It is not only fate that dooms the Mannon family, it is also shaped by their own refusal of change, of the living flux of experience, by an obsession with the past which allows the mask a dominance which denies the individual and his individuality. 6 At a time when many clichs about family and community, civility, style and grace had dissolved and the future seemed to offer little more than a bland materialism or dumb conformity Tennessee Williams pictured a not very optimistic alternative, although alternative it be: time is suspended for many of his heroes and heroines and it all started with his The Glass Menagerie. Laura Wingfield stands there as a paradigm of the culture of which she is a part. The world of modernity is outside of her experience and she tries to protect her vulnerability in the world of myth, symbolized by the glass unicorn. It is a false security, broken as easily as the unicorn glasshorn. Blanche, too, in A Streetcar Named Desire, resists the tide of time, terrified of herself getting old, aware that the life style she knew had ended and can be recovered at the level of the story, only through the roles she so desperately plays and which finally offer her no immunity.

Williams acknowledges his impossibility of recovering the past and he accepts the equivocal nature of that past stained by corruption and decay as something better than a future that contains force without mercy, passion without tenderness. Theatrically, he set himself to dissolve the surface of naturalism and replace it by a plastic theatre, fluid evanescent, undefined and undefining a kind of theatre that offered the same kind of resistance in front of the given which characterized his protagonists. Again, writing about his play The Glass Menagerie he proposed a picture of the vast hive like conglomerations of cellular living units that flower as warty growhs in overcrowded urban centres and which deny fluidity and differentiation. Tom, a writer, returns in memory to a family he had deserted in order to claim his freedom to write. The family consists of his mother, Amanda voluble, neurotic, surviving on memories and his sister, Laura, whose crippled foot is the image of a damaged spirit, withdrawn from the real. Tom as narrator, stands outside this world, literally and figuratively as he has found his way throughout. By conjuring his family into life to be shown to us as existants he asserts his power upon it. Yet, what he has achieved is what Jerry in Albees The Zoo Story called solitary free passage. Such solitude, though, is perhaps the price to be paid by the artist and The Glass Menagerie is in part a vision on the role of the artist. The framing device of the narrator also serves another function; by introducing another time scale; it helps create the ironies on which the play depends. Time is the central concern of the play. Amandas present in which she exists on the margins of society, surviving by playing nice to those that support her needs is contrasted to a past in which, at least on the level of memory and imagination, she was at the centre of attention. Lauras willful withdrawal into the child-like world of her menagerie derives its sad irony precisely from the fact that it is a denial of her own maturity in time. Even her gentleman caller is forced to confront the discrepancy between the promise of his high school years (recalled by the photograph in a school year book) and the reality of his present life. Time has already begun to break these people as their fantasies and dreams are wiped off by the prosaic facts of economic necessity and natural process alike. Laura seeks shelter into a timeless world of the imagined, Amanda by retreating into a past refashioned to offer consolation. According to Wiliams ...it is this continuous rush of time... that deprives our actual lives of so much dignity and meaning, and it is, perhaps more than anything else, the arrest of time which has taken place in a completed piece of work that gives to certain play their feeling of depth and significance... In a play, time is arrested in the sense of being confined. In The Glass Menagerie Williams carefully distinguishes between the chatter of Amanda, a neurotic flood which serves as a concealment of her fears and the silence of her daughter. The gentleman caller who thwarts Lauras hope of a different life and believes that language and particularly public speech would give him some sort of control is so insignificant in stature that his ambitions make us smile. The only true moment of bonding comes at the end of the play when the final scene between mother and daughter is paradoxically played out as through soundproof glass. With her chatter stilled, Amanda suddenly has a dignity and a tragic beauty. Her daughter replies smilingly with her stuttering also calmed. Only the narrator, the poet/the playwrights alter ego who summons up this scene retains access to words, all too aware of their falsity and cruelty. 7 The emergence of the Theatre of the Absurd in Europe placed the conventions of theatre under pressure and challenged drama rooted in psychology and sociology. Now, the character (or self) was no longer presented as secure, three dimensional, menaced but resistant; it became derided by irony, deflated by context, diminished by situation. All these features did not suit American theatrical background and audience expectations. American training of actors was committed to psychological veracity and the tradition was at odds with the Absurds denial of social conflict. Perhaps more fundamentally, it was in radical conflict with the basic American myths having to do with an integral self and the inevitability of progress. For all these reasons, and a few others belonging to his unique creativity, Albee never completely assumed the tenets of Absurdism, in spite of innovations in technique and structure that set him apart from, say, ONeill, Miller or Williams.

As classical criticism noted, Edward Albee is in his themes and concerns, a postnuclear writer. Apocalypse and eschatalogy are in the air. His fundamental theme is the collapse of communality, the Other as threat (See for comparison, J.P. Sartres famous The Hell is the Others). His favorite mood is loss and desolation, the major feeling spiritual depletion. Unlike Beckett, where similar features result in irony, in his early plays (written, let us not forget during the Kennedy years) there is faith in the possibility of redemption. It is later in such plays as Box or All Over or Quotations from Chairman Mao-Tse-Tung that he, became increasingly skeptical of the resilience of civilization and shared the national cynicism of the Nixon era. One of his early plays, The Zoo Story, a fable of social anomie, brings together Jerry a solitary man who lives alone in a rooming house in Greenwich Village and Peter, an executive in a publishing house, equally lonely, despite a family which offers the appearance, not the reality of communal life. The encounter takes place in a kind of no mans land in Central Park, where Peter comes to be alone. His isolation is put an end to by Jerry who had come to understand that isolation merely served to grant him solitary free passage through life that the immunity from experience which he had figured out to be a necessary protection was in fact a self imposed imprisonment; that a life lived without pain is life without consciousness. This is the lesson he tries to pass on to Peter in characteristic theatrical manner: narrative, action, symbol, proxemic communication. For him Peter is at the same time object, convert and disciple and the only way that can convert denial into faith is death. It is a strong play, compact and compelling, its melodramatic excesses balanced by subtle passages in which power and control are exercised through the indirections of metaphor and the almost musical tonalities of language. Jerry seems to understand himself and his function only through narration. The story he unfolds is not only a parable told for the benefit of Peter; it is the means through which he can explain to himself his experiences. The drama he improvises not only crystallizes a theme, but is also a mechanism of putting the theme in operation. Theatre, in other words becomes the source of meaning or, its own metaphor. In Albees plays characters are brought on the brink of change; transformations are implied but not realized. For him it is impossible to imagine and theatrically metaphorise the social world to which he wishes to restore his characters, which makes characters hover between redemption and apocalypse. In Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf? the menace of apocalyptic dissolution is quite detailed; past and future vie for the present. George is a professor of history, a novelist also who has refused the pragmatic approach which would have brought him success. Nick, a new member of faculty a biologist who to George represents the future, is more than willing to do whatever is necessary to succeed. Both men, however have lost touch with the real. George and Martha, unable to have children, have invented a fantasy child. Nick, on the other hand, has already begun to elaborate a myth of his own genius. During the social evening they spend together, George speaks of the apocalyptic implications of the betrayal of the real as he and Martha are forced by the logic of their own myth to surrender the child, who, though the product of their imagination is now of age. Either they break the logic of their lie or surrender to it. As the evening wears on, George and Martha dismantle their myth in a ritual which strips them of illusions. Nick and his wife Honey, are slowly drawn into this process in which they finally recognize their own strategic withdrawal from the real: her fear of sexual contact, his of failure. It would be a mistake to consider the play simply as private or domestic drama. We are invited to recognize a parallelism between the elaborate and detailed fictions which George and Martha use as an alternative to confronting the reality of their lives and the elaborate lies and fictions of society. Just as those lies designed to reassure and console people as citizens and members of society become a source of alienation for George and Martha, so they are, by implication for the society they represent. George, at a certain moment, describes a boy who, to avoid a porcupine drives into a tree and spends the rest of his life in suspended animation. This is a metaphor for what George did with his own life, denying and hence negating the past choosing fantasy over reality. A professor of history, he has chosen to deny history. George and Martha finally come together in a moment of genuine contact only when they abandon the sparkling articulateness and verbal games which had until then defined their

relationship, when they begin to abandon performance for being. At the end of the play, the two converse in monosyllables; language drains away and we are left with a tableau in which the characters emerge from night to day, from dream to reality. Albee himself insisted that the only optimistic act in Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf is to say, to admit that there are falsehoods, illusions, lies, and then to live with them if you want and know what they are. It is an act of public exorcism, Albee also said. Albees implicit irony of such plays like ONeills The Iceman Cometh or A Streetcar Named Desire which seem to say we can endorse; illusion as a legitimate retreat from the real, indicates another aspect of his work: George and Marthas fiction making skills offer a comment on another kind of fiction-making. The games they enact are as formally plotted as a play, they are scenes, performances staged for an audience. Nick and Honey. They are witty but nothing else but evasion and perhaps a comment a metatheatrical one on the kind of drama he rejected. The-father-son relationship has been a central motif of drama, from Aeschylus to Shakespeare, Chekhov and Ibsen through Arthur Miller. It is a matter of the nature of identity and of responsibility. Father and son wrestle for the possession of the past and the future and it is also a battle for powers and self knowledge as the father stares into the mirror of the son and sees himself and vice versa. For few dramatic literatures, however has his theme proved as significant as it did for the American, connected as it is with another fundamental cultural myth, that of the family. In Sam Shephards work, the family became a closed system replicating its tensions and claustrophobias in a metonymic parody of the culture. Not only are his characters trapped inside theer skins for life, they are caught in a biological trap that condemns them to reenactment and nowhere, perhaps is it as clearly seen as Buried Child (1979). Part of what some critics called The Family Trilogy, Buried Child is about a home coming and shares something with Pinters play Homecoming and partly, The Birthday Party with its theme of a buried past pressing on present behavior and insidiously growing sense of menace. Vince takes his girlfriend Shelly to see his grandparents whom he has not visited for years. His grandfather, Dodge sits on an old sofa watching a flickering television screen and drinking. His grandmother, Hallie dressed wholly in black as though in mourning, dwells on thoughts of her dead son, Ansel. Nobody seems to recognize Vince, not even his biological father Tilden who is busy carrying vegetables into the house from a backyard which has formerly grown nothing. This is a strong picture of a collapsed myth; a family illustrating failure of bonding between those who ought to have been close. As Dodge puts it You think just because they propagate they have to love their offspring. You never see a bitch eat her puppies? The child buried outside the house is his own, a child whose red hair matches that of his grandmother. Hallie, as a young woman. It is on image of the past, the past Dodge would rather deny. A play set in a farmhouse in the shadowed dark elm trees it is very easy to think of ONeills play Desire Under the Elms particularly if we also add the dead child and the sense of sexual threat. There is also irony, implicit in a closed world whih breeds only continuing further entrapment. Yet Shephands line of thought took another direction the dead child is an echo of its mother as Vince is of his father and grandfather. Here as well as elsewhere (Curse of the Starving Class, for instance) we are confronted with a repetition of a kind of hell both Tilden and his brother Bradley had left only to be drawn back again in on an eternally repetitive panttern of hellish torment. Tilden had drifted into the desert, trying to survive without speaking, thinking that perhaps outside of speech he might be outside of the ironies of experience () I thought I was dead I thought I was dying but I just lost my voice). So, he comes to the conclusion that You gotta talk or youll die, which is a statement that could very well serve as a motto for Becketts play as well. Dodges respouse: Theres notting to figure out. You just forge ahead, in another words, the search for meaning leads nowhere and the only way to follow is to concentrate on the road rather than the destination. Again, like in Beckett, the desire for meaning coincides with the absence of meaning. The buried child, it appears, is the incestuous product of Tilden and his mother. As in Fool for Love, incest serves to underline the hermetic, closed nature of the world. Shepards characters become alternative versions of themselves, doomed to re-enactment. The fact of incest is an embracing of the self in another guise and life, as Vince comes to realize, is replication without meaning, repetition without purpose, like he describes driving in a car and seeing hinself in the windscreen: I studied my face. Studied everything about it as though I could see his whole race behind him.

The ending of Buried child is deeply ironic, too. As Tilden enters the house carrying the corpse of the dead child, Halie is heard celebrating the beneficence of nature: You cant force a thing to grow. You cant interfere with it. Its all hidden () you just gotta wait until it pops out of the ground () Strong enough. Strong enough to break the earth even. Its a miracle. There is, therefore, a kind of desperate hoping against hope and in this play dominated by images of dissolution (a prosperous farm, now grown to barrenness, with one brother buried, another killed, a third an amputee) the vegetables teaped upon the stage seen to have as much significance as the leaf which appears on the tree in Waiting for Godot. NOTE: This is meant to be material support for the students who might have difficulties in getting first-hand knowledge of some critical literature and as such has no claim to originality. TEME PRINCIPALE PENTRU EXAMEN 1. The stage and the text continuity and discontinuity. 2. The plays and society realistic drama, comedy of manners, problem plays, angry young men. 3. American Theatre between tradition and experiment. De precizat c acestea sunt orientri foarte generale, examinarea fcndu-se pe baza a circa 200 de ntrebri punctuale.

BIBLIOGRAFIE OBLIGATORIE W. Congreve: Way of the World O. Wilde: The Importance of Being Earnest G.B.Shaw: Caesar and Cleopatra, Saint Joan The Devils Disciple T.S.Elliot: Murder in the Cathedral Eugene ONeill: Mourning Becomes Electra The Hairy Ape A. Miller: The Crucible Death of a Salesman Tennessee Williams: The Glass Menagerie A Streetcar Named Desire E. Albee: Zoo Story Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf John Osborne: Look Back in Anger H. Pinter: The Birthday Party The Caretaker The Dumb waiter S. Beckett: Waiting for Godot Endgame T. Stoppard: Rosenkrantz and Guidenstern Are Dead S. Shepard: Burried Child D. Mammet: American Buffalo