Romanian-French playwright Eugene Ionesco is arguably the most important writer of the Theatre of the Absurd. His Absurdist plays are hilarious yet deep looks at human communication and life.
Born in Romania in 1912 and dying in Paris, France, in 1994, Eugene Ionesco (originally Eugen Ionescu) can easily be considered the quintessential European playwright of the twentieth century. Young Ionesco grew up in the French countryside (his mother was French) but went to secondary school in Romania, learning his father’s language. Pursuing a passion, Ionesco attended University of Bucharest for French literature and language, where he began writing essays and poetry. At the age of twenty-two, he published “Nu,” an attack on some modernist Romanian writers. Under a doctoral grant to study French poetry, Ionesco moved to Paris at the onset of World War II with his wife, but he soon abandoned the research.
In 1948, Ionesco wanted to learn English and noticed how similar modern plays’ dialogues were to his English language primer. The result of this insight was Ionesco’s first, and possibly still his signature, play: “The Bald Soprano.” The six week initial run of this one act was far from impressive but the theme of the impossibility of communication intrigued some critics. His next two significant plays, “The Lesson” and “The Chairs,” explored irrational violence and unreasonableness, respectively, and connected Ionesco to the budding “Theatre of the Absurd” movement. Ionesco secured his fame and established his importance in modern theater with his series of four plays featuring the character Berenger written from 1958 to 1962: “The Killer,” “The Rhinoceros,” “Exit the King” and “A Stroll in the Air.” Of these, “The Rhinoceros” has arguably become the most famous work of Ionesco and one of the most famous examples of Absurdist drama.
1950’s La Cantatrice chauve or The Bald Soprano – For the average person, this will likely be the funniest one-act play he or she will ever read. The setting is the completely normal, middle-class home of Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Right off the bat, the clock strikes seventeen and the wife announces it’s nine o’ clock. Welcome to absurdity. A series of random exchanges reveals simple facts about the last day as well as the couple’s opinion of yogurt, doctors and the Royal Navy. Time becomes even more of a contradiction as the clock strikes a total of ten times and the couple discusses the death of a man named Bobby Watson, whose every family member was also named Bobby Watson. The introduction of the Martins, another couple, who could be married but don’t seem sure, adds to the fun. Finally, the fire chief searching for a fire arrives but must leave to fight a fire announced three days in advance. Essentially a parody of the realistic plays of the 1940s, Ionesco’s Bald Soprano challenges the utility and futility of speech and language.
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