Eugène Ionesco

Definition

Theater

  • (1909 - 94) Romanian-born French dramatist whopioneered the Theatre of the Absurd. His plays, usually one-actdramas, deal with such themes as the absurdity of existence, the alienationand impotence of man, the fear of death, and the failure of languageas a means of communication.

    Under the influence of the dramatist Antonin Artaud (see Theatre of Cruelty), Ionesco rejected the realistic andpsychological theater but continued to use Freudian ideas to explorethe subconscious and dreams. His famous 'anti-play' The Bald PrimaDonna (1950) explores the paradoxical relationship of languageto reality, as does The Lesson (1951); The Chairs(1952) is a study in nothingness and one of several works to reveal Ionesco'sintense horror of death. Criticized by Kenneth Tynanand others for his works' lack of social relevance, Ionesco made funof critics who demand a political message in Improvisation(1956). He also attacked Brecht as a 'postman' delivering messages.

    Ionesco's full-length plays include Amédée,ou comment s'en débarrasser (1954) and Tueur sans gages(1959), translated as The Killer for its 1968 London run. Thelatter introduced his clownish but sympathetic hero Berenger, whoin this play tries to attack the dwarf Death. Berenger reappearedin Rhinoceros (1960), which had a successful run at theRoyal Court Theatre in 1963 with Laurence Olivier and Joan Plowright.Characteristically, Ionesco uses logical language to destroy logic:

    Jean You're day-dreaming.
    Berenger But I'm wide awake.
    Jean Awake or asleep, it's the same thing.
    Berenger But there is some difference.
    Jean That's not the point.

    Le Roi se meurt (1962), also featuring Berenger, wasseen as Exit the King at the Royal Court in 1963 starring AlecGuinness. Later works included Macbett (1972) and JourneysAmong the Dead (1982).

    Ionesco, describing the difficulties in writing a play, noted,"One has to get out of bed, which is unpleasant...."

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