Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

Nine Plays of the Modern Theatre

Brecht: The Caucasian Chalk Circle; Beckett: Waiting for Godot; Durrenmatt: The Visit; Genet: The Balcony; Pinter: The Birthday Party; Ionesco: Rhinoceros; Mrozek: Tango; Stoppard: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead; Mamet: American Buffalo

by Harold Clurman Edited by Harold Clurman

“The nine plays included in this volume are not only modern by date, 1944-1975, but in their dramatization . . . . Though each may differ from the others in literary and theatrical quality, in personality or style, they nearly all confront a common concern, the same spiritual situation. While each expresses an individual consciousness and temperament, they move toward a unity in which we may discern a portrait of our day. What, in any case, is incontrovertible is that they are among the most representative plays of our era. . . . The merit of the dramatists who write such plays is that they make vivid what is happening to us, and unintentionally in most cases, warn of us of our peril.” –from the introduction by Harold Clurman

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 912
  • Publication Date May 01, 1981
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-5032-5
  • Dimensions 6.13" x 9.25"
  • US List Price $30.00

About The Book

This comprehensive volume contains nine of the most important, most indispensable plays of the modern theater. What Harold Clurman has done in this seminal collection is to create for us a portrait of the progress and turmoil of the twentieth century. Ranging from the eerie realism of Pinter’s sinister Birthday Party, to the absurd literalism of Ionesco’s conformist city in Rhinoceros, to the baroque fantasy world of Genet’s brothel in The Balcony, to the tragic hilarity of Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, these nine plays, each entirely distinct, together form an incisive, compelling, and sometimes heartbreaking mosaic of our time.


Bertolt Brecht, “The Caucasian Chalk Circle”
Samuel Beckett, “Waiting for Godot”
Friedrich D”rrenmatt, “The Visit”
Jean Genet, “The Balcony”
Harold Pinter, “The Birthday Party”
Eug”ne Ionesco, “Rhinoceros’
Slawomir Mrozek, “Tango’
Tom Stoppard, “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead”
David Mamet, “American Buffalo’


“The nine plays included in this volume are not only modern by date, 1944-1975, but in their dramatization . . . . Though each may differ from the others in literary and theatrical quality, in personality or style, they nearly all confront a common concern, the same spiritual situation. While each expresses an individual consciousness and temperament, they move toward a unity in which we may discern a portrait of our day. What, in any case, is incontrovertible is that they are among the most representative plays of our era. . . . The merit of the dramatists who write such plays is that they make vivid what is happening to us, and unintentionally in most cases, warn of us of our peril.” –from the introduction by Harold Clurman

Reading Group Guide

The Grove Press Guide to

Nine Plays of the Modern Theater

by Lois E. Refkin, Department of English and Communications and Theatre, Hunter College High School, New York, New York

Copyright ” 2000 by Grove Press,
an imprint of Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
all rights reserved.


A. Introduction 5


Analyses of the Plays 8

The Caucasian Chalk Circle 8

Waiting for Godot 11

The Visit 14

The Balcony 17

The Birthday Party 20

Rhinoceros 23

Tango 26

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead 29

American Buffalo 32

C. Video, Film, and Archival Resources 36

D. Bibliography 38

Notes 45

A. Introduction

This guide is intended to provide background information, critical approaches, and production histories for each of the plays in Nine Plays of the Modern Theater. While it is by no means exhaustive, the guide and its accompanying bibliography and resource list can be used as a starting point on the odyssey of researching any or all of these plays and their authors.

All of these plays are landmarks of modern theater, but due to curricular needs or time constraints an instructor might choose to use only a few of them in his or her course. The guide has been designed with this situation in mind; each play is discussed as a separate entity, yet for those who wish to draw parallels and contrasts, references are made throughout to the other plays in the anthology.

An instructor designing the curriculum for a modern drama course will be delighted by the ways the plays in this anthology work together. While many of them can be neatly grouped into Martin Esslin’s category of “Theatre of the Absurd,” they also branch out into epic, expressionist, surrealist, and political categories. Many of them show the influence of Samuel Beckett, while others harken back to Artaud’s “theatre of cruelty” and even farther back to ancient, classical forms of tragedy and comedy. And while virtually all are tragicomic, they have all been performed at both ends of the tragicomic spectrum.

Harold Clurman suggests in the introduction that all of these plays share three qualities: they attempt to address the loss of spirituality in our society, they aim to be universal in meaning, and they are all carefully stylized. Interestingly, they were almost all written by men living in “exile,” either in other countries or estranged within their own. As postwar (with the exception of Brecht’s) works, they are vivid reflections of our historical period, and timeless as well. Yet despite their power and universality, the plays could benefit by being supplemented with other plays that would bring into focus aspects of contemporary drama and culture not covered in the anthology. Among the areas that an instructor might also wish to address in a modern drama overview are plays written by women–Caryl Churchill and Marguerite Duras would be important additions; the fiercely political, rebellious plays written by such masters as Athol Fugard and V”clav Havel; plays like Brian Friel’s and August Wilson’s that celebrate and mourn over racial and ethnic identities; gay and lesbian theater; and the contemporary avant-garde, including the fusion of media and genre in performance art. For the last category, Grove Press’s anthology New American Theater (1993), edited by Michael Feingold, contains many works that would gracefully supplement Nine Plays of the Modern Theater, including David Gordon’s The Mysteries and What’s So Funny and Karen Finlay’s The Theory of Total Blame.

Instructors who prefer to focus more exclusively on the playwrights represented in Nine Plays of the Modern Theater might plan to compare these plays with others written by the same writers or by those they inspired, or with earlier plays like those of Alfred Jarry and Luigi Pirandello, which clearly influenced these playwrights. Many of the writers represented in this anthology also wrote extensively about the theory of theater, as well as prose and poetry which could inform discussion of the plays. Several of these sources are included in the bibliography.

A sample fourteen-week nonchronological syllabus could include the following:

Weeks 1–6: Incarnations of “Theatre of the Absurd”: Beckett, Pinter, Ionesco, Stoppard, Mamet, Albee (The Zoo Story or The American Dream)

Weeks 7–9: Epic and Expressionism: Brecht, D”rrenmatt, Kushner (Angels in America)

Weeks 10–12: Literature of Revolt and Reminiscence: Mrozek, Fugard (Master Harold and the Boys or Playtime), Friel (Translations), Duras

Weeks 13–14: Contemporary Playwrights and the Avant-Garde: Churchill, (Robert) Wilson, Gordon, Finlay

As in any drama course, but particularly in one which would focus so intensively on the uses of language, it would be exceptionally useful to have students perform staged readings of scenes. Tapes of some of the plays are available for rent or purchase, and would also provide a useful starting point for discussion of the validity of different interpretations as well as the problems and challenges of staging works that defy the tradition of the “well-made play.” The videos and films that are currently available are listed in Section C.

While no anthology can possibly represent all of the important moments of modern drama, Nine Plays of the Modern Theater serves as an excellent grounding for a modern drama course. The striking parallels and contrasts between the plays, whether philosophical or stylistic, will yield a wealth of discussion topics based on close examination of the text. Ultimately, these writers will ask your students to examine everything from the fine points of existentialism to the very meaning of theater itself. Enjoy.

Analyses of the Plays

The Caucasian Chalk Circle

One of the finest of Bertolt Brecht’s plays, The Caucasian Chalk Circle is fascinating as a mature representation of Brecht’s theories of “epic theatre.” Its structure, language, tone, and political implications all make the play a bit of a curiosity to readers today, yet on second glance the play reveals itself as a compelling and complex statement of Brecht’s unique vision of modern theater. Among the play’s most interesting qualities are its blend of several types of poetic language, its combination of the tragic with the comic, its reinterpretation and use of ancient dramatic forms, and its structural development of three plotlines through the use of short sketches, narration, and song.

The original story of the play-within-a-play comes from a thirteenth-century Chinese drama, The Circle of Chalk, which had been adapted and performed in Germany in 1925. While in exile in Hollywood in 1944, however, Brecht changed the story and framed the original tale in a way that would suit his own aesthetic and political purposes. Recently, the question has been raised whether The Caucasian Chalk Circle was coauthored by Brecht’s lover, Ruth Berlau; Brecht scholar John Fuegi has revealed that Brecht dictated a will which tacitly acknowledged Berlau as a coauthor.1

The play did not meet with instant success. Although it had been planned as a vehicle for actress Luise Rainer, the play was not produced until 1948, when Eric Bentley directed the premiere production at Carleton College in Minnesota, using the translation in this anthology. Six years later, in Berlin, Brecht directed the landmark production of the play at the Berlinische Ensemble; the large-cast tour de force later toured Europe. The notes and history of this production yield a treasure trove of insight into Brecht’s intentions in writing the play.

As an example of Brecht’s vision of “epic theatre,” the play is a fascinating statement. It exemplifies the use of nonnaturalistic language which typified Brecht’s idiom. As critics Martin Esslin and E. Borneman have noted, Brecht’s idiom is a combination of southern German language patterns, modern German, Anglicisms and other foreign expressions, the antisymbolic poetry of concrete images, the jargon of bureaucrats, the texture of German street ballads, and the diction of biblical language. Inevitably, much of the poetry of this blend is lost in translation, yet this mix of nonnaturalistic styles is still clearly evident, particularly in the speech patterns of Grusha and the narrator, and in the scene in which Grusha and Simon woo each other in the third person.2

GRUSHA. The soldier is pigheaded: he is running into danger for nothing–nothing at all. I must get into the third courtyard, I’m in a hurry.

SIMON. Since we’re both in a hurry we shouldn’t quarrel. You need time for a good quarrel. May I ask if the young lady still has parents? (23)

Brecht’s intention in using this type of language is to enhance the ‘distancing” effect that distinguishes his plays from his predecessors’. In rebelling against the forms of theater that make the audience identify with a character, and thereby be entertained at the expense of thinking about and learning from the situation, Brecht preferred a dramatic style which brought about entertainment pleasure by challenging the viewer to think. Thus the viewer, in his opinion, should not identify with the characters, but rather be able to remain detached and observe the drama through his or her intellectual eye. To achieve this reaction, Brecht opposed the Stanislavskian ­vision that actors should become their characters; Brecht preferred what Esslin called a ‘demonstration style” of acting in which the actor is not “impersonating the character as much as narrating the actions of another person at a definite time in the past. . . . the Brechtian style of acting is acting in quotation marks.”3 The desired effect is the one described by British critic Kenneth Tynan in his comments on Brecht’s production of the play:

But if I felt unmoved by what Brecht had to say, I was overwhelmed by the way in which he said it. It was as shocking and revolutionary as a cold shower. In the British theatre everything is sacrificed to obtain sympathy for the leading characters: Chez Brecht, sympathy is nowhere; everything is sacrificed for clarity of narrative. No time is wasted on emotional climaxes.4

In his production, Brecht enhanced the distancing effect by having the evil characters wear masks and use stylized gestures. The Aeschylean use of a narrator, not unlike the singer of ancient No drama, furthers the distancing, while the utopian Prologue provides yet another layer of separation for the audience.

The Prologue has been at the center of much of the critical debate about the play. Based a few years in the future, it presents two Georgian collectives reaching a communal decision about the appropriate use of land. While the Prologue sets in motion one of the central themes of the play–possessions and their social use–and provides a dramatic purpose for the telling of the ancient tale of the chalk circle, its utopianism seems quaintly out of sync with what modern times have witnessed as the Stalinist legacy. Eric Bentley describes Brecht’s vision as “a non-Russian Stalinist’s view of Stalinist Russia.”5 Politics aside, however, the Prologue has an inter­esting dramatic effect. John Fuegi has argued that it provides “a decompression chamber as we step from the here and now into the never-never,”6 helping the viewer to move from the present day into the ancient and fantastical past of the central play.

A second source of critical attention has been Brecht’s use of contrasts in his depiction of the two main characters, the courageous and self-sacrificing mother-figure, Grusha, and the cynical and questionable judge, Azdak. What Ronald Gray has described as Grusha’s lyrical quality runs up against Azdak’s crude vigor in Scene 6.7 Her actions are easy to comprehend and be moved by (in spite of Brecht’s desire for distancing), while Azdak’s actions are saturnalian–ambiguous and disruptive. He sexually harasses a woman seeking protection against sexual harassment, and then dispenses a wise, Solomon-like justice in the case of Grusha. Both Azdak and Grusha depend on their instinct and shrewdness, yet in Azdak’s case that intelligence is expressed in an ironic obsequiousness that helps him survive. Further complicating Brecht’s desire for distance is the fact that ironic and poignant parallels can be drawn between Grusha and the Virgin Mary, and between Azdak and Jesus Christ. Interestingly, Brecht created many characters like Azdak; he has been compared to the earlier eponymous heroes of Brecht’s Schweik in the Second World War and The Life of Galileo. In Brecht’s own production of this play, the actor playing the narrator doubled as Azdak.

Brecht’s central point is neatly stated at the end of the play:

. . . what there is shall go to those who are good for it,

Children to the motherly, that they prosper,

Carts to good drivers, that they be driven well,

The valley to the waterers, that it yield fruit.

In this Marxist statement endorsing the distribution of possessions by social use, Brecht closes his play with a utopian ideal. What marks the play today more than its message, however, is the nuanced, epic way that Brecht plays with ancient dramatic forms to convey his aesthetic beliefs. In playing with the mix of tragedy (a mother figure torn from the child she loves) and comedy (the wedding scene), in mingling an astounding diversity of idioms, and in challenging a viewer to look beyond the simple story of mother-love, Brecht creates a uniquely modern (one ventures to call it “postmodern”) style of drama.

Waiting for Godot

In a characteristically ironic response to critics who try to categorize Waiting for Godot, Samuel Beckett described his play as “[striving] at all costs to avoid definition.” Nor was he more forthcoming about the great mystery of who or what “Godot” represents. When asked by the director of the play’s first American production, Alan Schneider, what he intended with the name, Beckett replied, “If I knew, I would have said so in the play.”8

Despite its riddles, Waiting for Godot is undoubtedly the most influential avant-garde classic of the modern theater, inspiring playwriting and production techniques worldwide. In exemplifying the theatrical approach that later came to be called “Theatre of the Absurd,” the play’s brilliant blurring of the lines between tragedy and comedy, its devaluation of rational forms of discourse and narrative, and its exploration of purposelessness and bewilderment mark it as a central moment in the history of theater. Equally significant is Beckett’s ability to develop a form which mirrors content, both in this play and his later works.

Like Brecht, Beckett developed his unique idiom while drawing from a variety of older dramatic forms. In the case of Waiting for Godot, Beckett plays most apparently with the theatrical forms of vaudeville in his stichomythic dialogue, the use of repetition, and the continuous physical humor of hats, boots, and pants. His characters sometimes seem like types out of other comic traditions, including commedia dell”arte. In creating his balanced tragicomic form, Beckett also draws upon techniques of Japanese and Greek drama–as critic Hugh Kenner notes, the stage and action reflect No drama (the tree, the journey, the concatenated rituals), while Greek tragedy is reflected in the use of two actors, a messenger, and the continuous expectation of a deus ex machina, Godot.9

While these dramatic forms stress resolution in their final scenes, Waiting for Godot‘s conclusion is one of stasis. Beckett’s original title for the play, which was first written in French, was simply En Attendant (Waiting). As the acts begin and end similarly, with Godot sending word that he will arrive the next day and Vladimir and Estragon agreeing to leave but staying in the same place, Beckett creates drama out of the techniques of waiting. As we see the men develop different strategies to handle the waiting–among them, trying to commit suicide–the drama’s sense of man’s hopelessness builds. To heighten the impact, the dimensions of time and space are elusive; Estragon, in particular, cannot remember where he was or what happened yesterday, and the Boy and Pozzo share in his lack of memory. The tenor changes in Act II as both Vladimir and Estragon become more frantic in their desperation to situate themselves in time and place. With no one sharing his memory, the philosophical Vladimir comes to doubt his very existence and the nature of truth. These questions of existence in an absurd universe are echoed in the words and form of Lucky’s monologue.

In ostensibly waiting for a man named Godot, Vladimir and Estragon seem to expect him to offer them some form of salvation. To elucidate this point, critics have tried to become linguists, developing a theory of what the term “Godot” means. For many, it is a diminutive of God, in the way that the French pierrot is diminutive of Pierre. Beckett apparently pronounced the name as “God-oh,” with the emphasis on the first syllable, leading some to believe he intended the connection between Godot and God.10 Critics generally conclude that Beckett is suggesting that God–if such a figure even exists–has abandoned man, leaving him hopeless in an absurd world. This conclusion is also supported by the seemingly mocking biblical references and the frequent allusions to mortality in the play, in particular Vladimir’s grave digger-forceps image. Yet critics have also suggested other interpretations of the term: in French, for example, godenot means “a misshapen man.”11 The term might also be an homage to Balzac, who created a much-discussed-but-never-seen character, Godeau, in his novel Mercadet.12

While Beckett might have desired these answers to remain elusive, the production history of the play shows the urge of many directors to concretize his message. Many schools of thought have read their own meaning into the play; one fascinating case in point is Bertolt Brecht’s desire to adapt the play by envisioning Godot as the socialist millennium. In his proposed adaptation, Brecht wanted to classify Estragon as a proletarian, Vladimir as an intellectual, Lucky as an ass or policeman, and Pozzo as “von” Pozzo, a landowner. He hoped to break up the action by interspersing it with film and music depicting revolutionary movements in the Soviet Union, China, Asia, and Africa.13 Similarly, others have read an antitotalitarian, postapocalyptic message into the play, given Vladimir’s implication that laughter is prohibited, the relationship between Pozzo and Lucky, and the stark landscape.

The first production of the play took place in a small Left Bank theater, five years after the play was completed in 1948, and was directed by Beckett’s friend Roger Blin. Generally but not universally well-received, the production toured Europe. In 1956, the play came to the United States in a Miami production starring Bert Lahr as Estragon and directed by Alan Schneider. Audiences who expected to see a Bert Lahr comedy were reportedly rudely awakened. In a move to Broadway with a new director and Vladimir, the play was not particularly well-received, closing after only eighty-nine performances. Nevertheless, in its first five years of production, the play was seen by over a million spectators.

One of the central problems that productions of this play face is its tragicomic nature. In a 1988 production at Lincoln Center with Steve Martin as Vladimir and Robin Williams as Estragon, critics found that the comic antics of Williams, like Lahr’s, easily overtook the play. Fortunately, there is a record of how Beckett hoped to achieve this equilibrium. In Beckett’s own direction of the play in 1975 at the Schiller Theatre in West Berlin, he emphasized the tragicomic balance. The clearest sense of what Beckett intended for the play can be found in the notebooks of that production, which were published in 1994 by Grove Press. The production focused on effect rather than message, featuring an overwhelmingly large proscenium stage that emphasized the characters’ isolation as well as the metatheatrical nature of the action. The comic moments were developed by the use of vaudevillian costumes and lightning-fast responses. Beckett also separated speech and movement, making the actors stop in tableaux each time they said that they were waiting for Godot.14

In 1961, Eug”ne Ionesco called Beckett “the true demystifier.” Yet in contrast to Brecht, Beckett’s intention is not necessarily to teach or reveal a universal truth. As this anthology demonstrates, the demystification techniques he developed for the post–World War II world have had an enduring influence on modern playwrights.

The Visit

In his expressionist tragicomedy The Visit, Friedrich D”rrenmatt leaves social, political, and religious institutions in shreds. As he satirizes our notions of justice, community, religion, media, and family, D”rrenmatt vividly achieves what he defined as his purpose: “to show [mankind] on the stage his foolishness, blindness, his lack of judgment.”15 In praising The Visit, Eug”ne Ionesco said that if he had written this play, he would not have bothered to write anything else.16

Set in the Swiss town of G’llen–which translates as “liquid manure” –D”rrenmatt’s play seamlessly fuses both tragic and comic sensibilities. It could be described as playing with both Sophoclean and Aristophanic visions of classical form. In his essay “Problems of the Theater,” D”rrenmatt argues that the fusing of these two genres is crucial for modern times, stating, “The tragic is still possible even if pure tragedy is not. We can achieve the tragic out of comedy. We can bring it forth as a frightening moment, as an abyss that opens suddenly . . .”17 Before the abyss of the community’s capitulation to greed opens suddenly in this play, D”rrenmatt draws the town with light satire, noting the ineffectualness of the elected officials and the facelessness of the characters. Yet as Claire’s arrival and the subsequent events unfold, D”rrenmatt masterfully plays with the classical tragic notions of revenge and the desire for purgation.

In the characters of Claire Zachanassian and Alfred Ill, D”rrenmatt also plays with the tenets of classical tragedy and comedy. With a name meant to satirize three wealthy families connected with Zurich–Zacharoff, Onassis, and Gulbenkian–Claire could easily be understood to represent the destructive power of greed. However, ultimately, Claire herself is a tragic figure, a woman with a tremendous capacity for love, whose body parts have been replaced almost entirely by artificial limbs. Her agreement to bury Ill in a special mausoleum in Capri implies a certain tenderness that one would not expect from this avenging Fury. In a note to the play, D”rrenmatt rejected viewing Claire as a strict symbol, arguing that she represents “neither justice nor the Marshall Plan nor even the Apocalypse; let her be only what she is: the richest woman in the world, whose fortune has put her in a position to act like the heroine of a Greek tragedy: absolute, cruel, something like Medea.” Building on this parallel, critic Murray Peppard has written that Claire, like Medea, is ultimately “victimized by her revenge.”18

Alfred Ill, in the meantime, grows into the mantle of a tragic hero. An inherently weak man who abandons Claire and denies his paternity of their child, Ill comes to see beyond the meaningless markers of “community” and “family” in G’llen to understand its hypocrisy, its heartlessness, and its vacuity. Ultimately, he will not even capitulate to the townspeople’s suggestion that he kill himself, thereby forcing the town to sacrifice him and become complicit in his guilt. D”rrenmatt’s expression of man’s courage might seem surprising given the unremittingly grotesque characterizations in the play, yet he clearly believes that even a weak man can come to stand outside the community and resist its will. Ill’s character is also reflected in other characters in D”rrenmatt’s oeuvre, including the eponymous hero of Romulus the Great.

D”rrenmatt experiments with the stylistic use of language, symbolism, and theatricality at every turn of The Visit. His parodic use of a Sophoclean chorus at the end of the play–in which the community offers thanks for its deliverance to material wealth–is a brilliant dramatic moment. D”rrenmatt underscores it by having the characters continually change clothes during the chorus until they end in contemporary dress, thereby making the connection between the world of the play and the world of the audience. Claire’s direct, no-nonsense language, which at first seems so vulgar, points out the artificiality of the language of the mayor, the priest, and the teacher, who try to hide behind the allusive and vacuous language of their occupations.

D”rrenmatt’s expressionist, highly theatrical use of symbols also enriches the play. He originally studied to become a painter, and he pays great attention to the visual effect of the drama. The omnipresent coffin and the growing use of yellow shoes to indicate the community’s capitulation to greed are among the play’s most effective symbols. Adding to the theatricality of the symbols is the ironic use of actors–having them pose as trees, for example. to highlight the artificiality of the nostalgic scene between Claire and Alfred in the forest.

The Visit remains a central work of the modern theater, as popular in America as abroad. In Switzerland, Armin Arnold has noted, the play has become a ‘second national drama,” preceded only by Schiller’s William Tell.19 After opening on January 29, 1956 at the Zurich Schauspielhause with Therese Giehse as Claire and Gustav Knuth as Alfred, the play quickly crossed the Atlantic. As a vehicle for the close of Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne’s theatrical career, the play was adapted for Broadway and directed by Peter Brook in 1958. The Lunt-Fontanne version is described as having been played as “a deliciously perverse love story carried into the extreme.”20 A 1992 Broadway revival starring Jane Alexander was noted for its use of masks for all but the characters of Claire and Alfred. The play’s enduring popularity has led to its adaptation to different genres: a film starring Ingrid Bergman and Anthony Quinn appeared in 1964, and was followed in 1992 by a Senegalese film adaptation, Hyenas, which sets the action in Africa. In 1971, Austrian-Swiss composer Gottfried von Einem created an opera version.

When one considers that The Visit was contemporaneous with plays like Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, it is easy to see how strikingly different and important the D”rrenmatt play is, bringing to life the sensibility of Kafka with the visual intensity of Hieronymus Bosch.

The Balcony

The juxtaposition of Friedrich D”rrenmatt’s The Visit with Jean Genet’s The Balcony in this anthology is a startling one. While the two authors share an interest in satirizing modern society and authority, in playing with the dramatic use of ritual, and in shocking the audience into a startling realization, their styles are remarkably dissimilar. The unity of D”rrenmatt’s play is contrasted with the diversity of styles in Genet’s; similarly, the relatively unobscured focus of D”rrenmatt’s play stands in strong contrast with Genet’s multiplicity of themes–at times obscure, at times vividly apparent. Some of the complexity of Genet’s play stems from its predominant theme of illusion and reality, in which a brothel where one can ­enact any fantasy becomes a microcosm of the world, and the world is thereby also seen as a brothel. The layered depictions of illusion, as underscored by the use of mirrors, lead a viewer to question what is real, whether in the play (is the revolution truly taking place, or yet another ritual?) or in the viewer’s own life–Madam Irma warns us, at the end, that when we return home, everything will be “even falser than here,” in the theater. Genet’s biographer, Edmund White, has noted that in exploring these themes of illusion and authenticity, the viewer is ultimately challenged to explore the social dynamics of power.21

Genet’s candid representation of sadomasochism also challenges the viewer to examine the relationship between sex and power. As Edmund White has suggested, the reader is confronted both visually and personally when Madam Irma speaks to the audience, addressing its members as if they were potential clients.22 The play suggests that sexual objectification becomes an end in itself; Genet wrote that the motivation of the Police Chief extended beyond the need for political power to the desire to find himself representative of a sexual object:

The play has as its object the mythology of the whorehouse. A Police Chief is infuriated, chagrined, to notice that at the “Great Balcony” there are many erotic rituals representing various heroes: the Abb”, the Hero, the Criminal, the Beggar–and others besides–but alas, never the Police Chief. He struggles so that his own character will finally, through an exquisite act of grace, haunt the erotic daydreams and that he will thereby become a hero in the mythology of the whorehouse.23

In part, Genet’s fascination with the ideas that permeate The Balcony can be seen as based in his own life. The play seems to be a direct response to Jean-Paul Sartre’s beatification of the writer in Saint Genet. Reportedly upset over being defined and compartmentalized by Sartre, Genet responded by exploring the distinction between being and doing.24 To Genet, images do not necessarily represent reality–nor does a person with an image desire to perform the functions required by the image. Genet’s early troubles with the law are also reflected, in his fascination with characters obsessed by power and oppression, who seek justification in a uniform. A third inspiration for the play was recent political events:

My point of departure was situated in Spain, Franco’s Spain, and the revolutionary who castrates himself was all those Republicans when they had admitted their defeat. And then my play continued to grow in its own direction and Spain in another.25

The obvious parallel of the Police Chief’s (Franco’s) building an enormous mausoleum (Valley of the Fallen) to enshrine himself even before his own death leads to other parallels between the Spanish Republicans and the Genet revolutionaries.

As a work of theater history, The Balcony is perhaps most notable for its experimentation with a wide variety of dramatic styles. Genet uses ideas from the ancient Greek theater–both the use of cothurni to give the characters stature and the emphasis on ritual in the opening scenes–and also incorporates some of the techniques of Brecht’s “epic theatre,” including tableaux, grotesques, and makeup that serves as masks. Genet’s play has also been closely linked to Antonin Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty. The result of this blending of styles is, as director Peter Brook noted, “a drama which is purely traditional and perfectly classical, but conceived in the intensest atmosphere of passion and violence.”26 The juxtaposition of styles can also be seen in the contrast between lyrical and vulgar language, particularly in the speeches of Irma.

The style of The Balcony has been the focus of most critical analyses of the play. Based on an unfinished novel, Querell of Brest, The Balcony was rewritten by Genet many times after its first appearance. In the rewrites, Genet seemed to be trying to address the two key difficulties in presenting the play: the contrast between the first four scenes and the last five, and the motivation behind Roger’s castration. The simplicity and sensationalism of the brilliant first four scenes is muted by the discursive nature of the later scenes; as Kenneth Tynan noted,

The true objection to the play is that, although nobody but M. Genet could have written the first half at all, almost anyone else could have written the second half better . . . [the second half] needs logic, to which Genet is temperamentally opposed . . . As an evoker, M. Genet is magnificent; as an explainer, he is a maddening voice.27

The question of Roger’s motivation for castrating himself has also caused considerable critical disagreement. Genet, in the quote above, suggests that Roger’s castration is a capitulation to the forces of control, represented by the brothel and the Police Chief. By contrast, Martin Esslin views it as Roger’s attempt to punish himself for seeking power, while also vicariously punishing the Police Chief he emulates, whose symbol is a giant phallus.28

The difficult production history of The Balcony exemplifies some of the fascinating dramatic struggles inherent in presenting this play. On the one hand, Genet wanted the play to have the solemnity of ritual, while on the other he insisted on a certain vulgarity and violence in its presentation. The play went unproduced for a while due to concerns about censorship. The first production, staged in London in April 1957 and directed by Peter Zadek, was viewed by Genet as a betrayal; when he tried to postpone its opening, he was barred from the theater. At first, Genet seemed happy that the May 1960 Paris opening would be directed by Peter Brook; however, Brook used a revolving stage, which Genet considered inappropriate. Two months earlier, a popular and dramatically shortened production was directed in New York by Jose Quintero at the Circle in the Square. Other interesting productions were an open-air version directed by Andre Steiger in Nancy, France in 1971, in which the setting was a cemetery, and a 1979 production directed by Richard Schechner in New York at the Performing Garage, in which men played the women’s roles and women played the men’s roles.

The play, like The Visit, also inspired both a film and an opera. The film, directed in 1963 by Joseph Strick with Genet’s collaboration, removed the action from a brothel and, interestingly, placed it in a film studio; in addition, Roger’s castration and the lesbian attraction between Irma and Carmen were eliminated. The result, according to critic Gene A. Plunka, is a film ‘more humorous and less lyrical than Genet’s text.”29 Written by Ben Maddox, the film starred Shelley Winters as Irma, Leonard Nimoy as Roger, Peter Falk as the Police Chief, and Lee Grant as Chantal. The 1972 atonal opera was written by Robert DiDomenica.

Like Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle, The Balcony may be more interesting as a play which can be examined for its weaknesses as well as its strengths. Both plays are central to the history of modern drama for their willingness to take risks with form. In the case of The Balcony, however, the effect of the play is particularly shocking and unforgettable. As Kenneth Tynan noted, “For all its faults, this is a theatrical experience as startling as anything since Ibsen’s revelation, seventy-six years ago, that there was such a thing as syphilis.”30

The Birthday Party

When actor Harold Pinter’s first full-length play, The Birthday Party, was produced in London in 1958, it was so poorly received that it closed in only five days. Yet the morning after the theater went dark, a glowing review appeared in The Sunday Times, with reviewer Harold Hobson calling Pinter “the most original, disturbing, and arresting talent in theatrical London.”31 Hobson thereby prophesied the tremendously influential role that Pinter would play in modern drama. Yet even today Pinter continues to enrage and mystify ­critics and audiences by refusing to elucidate or discuss his themes and characterizations.

Among the playwrights in this anthology, Pinter can be seen as directly influenced by Samuel Beckett, and similarly, Pinter’s influence can be easily detected in the plays of David Mamet. The apparent concerns and style of The Birthday Party are closely linked to those of Waiting for Godot: among them, the role of language as an irrelevant, evasive, and inconsistent means of communication; the question of what is real in a world of shifting truths; the sense of a menacing, outside evil force; the elaborate game-playing and use of a music-hall vaudevillian style to create humor in a horrific situation. Yet it is also essential to note the differences between Beckett and Pinter–most notably, in the hyperreality of Pinter’s quotidian settings as compared with the surreality of Beckett’s worlds; indeed the idea for The Birthday Party grew out of Pinter’s own experience residing in a filthy rooming house while he was touring as an actor. Martin Esslin, however, points out that these differing settings both contribute to the poignancy of the works that contain them, noting that “. . . as in the case of Waiting for Godot . . . a play like this [The Birthday Party] simply explores a situation which, in itself, is a valid poetic image that is immediately seen as relevant and true.”32

The Birthday Party is filled with menace, as represented by the interrogating and powerful Goldberg and McCann. The question of what Goldberg and McCann represent is one that has yielded innumerable interpretations. Esslin summarizes them by asking whether Goldberg and McCann are emissaries of a secret organization which Stanley has betrayed, male nurses taking him back to the asylum from which he escaped, or representatives of another world, perhaps even the Grim Reaper itself. The fact that Stanley is dressed in bourgeois clothes at the end of the play suggests that the artist/musician has been forced to conform in some way to a society represented by the two men;33 others interpret his clothing as the attire of a corpse, with the birthday party serving as a wake.34 Goldberg and McCann’s ethnic backgrounds have also led to scholarly speculation, particularly Goldberg’s frequent Jewish references. The combination of a Jew and a Catholic might be a reference to Judeo-Christian organized religion, although the combination was also a common one in the music-hall-style comedies which the men reflect in their stichomythic dialogue. Further speculation could be made about Pinter’s intentions given that McCann mostly speaks of treachery, politics, religion, and heresy while Goldberg’s expansive and clich’d tales focus on sex, property, and social propriety.35 As a staging concern, Goldberg’s character has presented many difficulties for actors trying to determine how stereotypically to play him. In 1960 Pinter himself played Goldberg, reportedly as a man of outer confidence but inner uneasiness–always adjusting his clothing, accent, and smile.36

Pinter gives a clue as to the meaning of Goldberg and McCann in his contemporary poem “A View of the Party.” In the poem, Pinter describes Goldberg as a ‘man of weight and time” who ‘supervise[s] the game,” while McCann is “a man of skin and bone, with a green stain on his chest.” Together, the men, “allied in their theme . . . [impose] upon the room a dislocation and doom.”37 The sense of doom is so potent from the moment that their arrival is noted by Petey that the play almost feels like a Greek tragedy.38 McCann and Goldberg render powerless in their wake all of the other characters: proving Petey’s ineffectiveness, leaving Meg in her Blanche DuBois–style fantasy of being the belle of the ball, and embittering Lulu. If Stanley is not exactly a powerful figure at the beginning of the play, having been infantilized by Meg and possessing an uncertain past, he is merely a mute puppet at the conclusion. The sense of doom is further heightened by the fact that the audience does not know who McCann and Goldberg are; a viewer is left feeling there is no security in this world, only an unknown menace that seems to know all of our secret guilt and dread. The sexual overtones of the play are also supremely disturbing, from the Freudian interplay of Stanley and Meg to the rape of Lulu in Act II.

Pinter’s focus on the role of language, like Beckett’s, heightens both the humor and tragedy of the play. Pinter makes his a rather common, nearly sitcom-type scene: a wife chattering without saying anything meaningful, not listening to her husband’s responses. Once it becomes clear that Stanley is not really their son, however, the scenes take on a tragicomic dimension, as Meg and Petey’s communication becomes “a perverse, deviant language specialized in concealing reality.”39 Among all the characters, talking increasingly becomes a no-win situation, as discussions become questioning games filled with only “phatic” questions (irrelevant questions that serve as a way of maintaining human contact) or rhetorical ones which cannot be answered.40

Despite the initial cold reception to The Birthday Party, critics and audiences did not give up on Pinter, and only a few months later he directed his own touring production of the play. One year later, the play was better received in another London production, and it became a favorite both abroad and in England as Pinter’s reputation grew with 1959’s The Caretaker and 1964’s The Homecoming. In 1968 a film of The Birthday Party was made, directed by William Friedkin and starring Robert Shaw as Stanley.

At the time when the play was first performed, Pinter was often grouped with contemporary avant-garde playwrights of the British theater, among them John Osborne and Arnold Wesker. Pinter, however, has come to far surpass his contemporaries in influence and power, with fellow playwright Alan Ayckbourn noting,

When Pinter started writing, he was completely coming from left field, as they say, as opposed to Osborne and Wesker, who were still writing in a sense in a recognizable form, albeit they were introducing new elements. Osborne revolutionized the content of plays, but I’m sure Pinter revolutionized the very nature of the play.41


While many of the playwrights in this anthology have been cagey about the origins and themes of their plays, Eug”ne Ionesco made widely known in interviews and articles both his inspiration and intentions. The origin of 1958’s Rhinoceros came from Ionesco’s anguish at watching his friends capitulate to the fascism of the Iron Guards in Rumania, an event that paralleled the rise of Nazism in Germany. As his peers rationalized their way into acceptance of the fascist state, Ionesco watched them metamorphose into Kafkaesque beasts:

I spoke to him. He was still a man. Suddenly, beneath my very eyes, I saw his skin get hard and thicken in a terrifying way. His gloves, his shoes, became hoofs; his hands became paws, a horn began to grow out of his forehead, he became ferocious, he attacked furiously. He was no longer intelligent, he could no longer talk. He had become a rhinoceros.42

While this genesis for the play might make it seem like a work completely devoted to condemning fascism, Ionesco adamantly argued that his play criticized all forms of collective thinking: “Wars, uprisings, pogroms, collective frenzies and collective crimes, tyrannies and oppressions . . . they’re common right now, or in history. Our monstrousness has countless faces, collective or otherwise, striking or less striking, obvious or less obvious.”43 He actively fought against being labeled as a propagandist for a political cause, and openly criticized writers who he felt were too closely allied with a particular movement, including Brecht, Sartre, and Osborne. “Left-wing conformism,” he wrote, “is just as lamentable as the right-wing sort.”44

Statements such as these embroiled the Rumanian Ionesco, who lived in France, in major controversies with contemporary playwrights and critics. Among the most well-known was the war of words between Kenneth Tynan and Ionesco in 1958. Tynan criticized Ionesco for presenting a world so bleak that it offered only despair to the theatergoer. Even in Rhinoceros, which ends with Berenger not capitulating to rhinoceritis, it is not clear if Berenger is heroic or miserable, or both. Yet Ionesco preferred to remain descriptive rather than prescriptive, arguing, “I never meant to offer a solution. I simply meant to show how a mutation is possible in collective thought, to show how it comes about.”45

In condemning all forms of conformity, Ionesco criticizes the various logics that lead to capitulation. He suggests that it is the very systematization of thought that is dangerous, as ‘systematalogies lose touch with reality.”46 Most acerbic in Rhinoceros is his portrayal of the Logician, whose syllogisms are ridiculous. However, each character who falls prey to rhinoceritis has his/her own system of logic which enables him/her to rationalize becoming a beast. For Botard, the Marxist union man, the community spirit of the rhinoceroses is appealing. Dudard prizes loyalty to his friends, who have become rhinoceroses, above all else. Jean, who formerly rigidly upheld the importance of moral precepts, submits to the system he calls the law of nature. And Daisy, who is afraid of being alone, gives in to the “beauty” of the beasts, comparing them to gods as she joins them.47 Ionesco views all of these ‘systems’–community spirit, loyalty, nature, and beauty–as dangerous when used to justify capitulation.

Berenger, however, try as he might, cannot fall victim to rhinoceritis. Certainly there is little that can be called “heroic” about the hapless clerk. Ionesco uses Berenger as his central character in three other plays–The Killer, Pedestrian of the Air, and Exit the King–and he is different in each. While the Berenger of Rhinoceros might be classified as an antihero for lacking a system of morality, Ionesco preferred to call him “a hero in spite of himself.”48 He does not capitulate simply because his instinct tells him not to, rather than for more sophisticated philosophical or moral reasons; his intuition alone makes him a hero.

The surreal quality of Rhinoceros is vintage Ionesco. Another Ionesco play, The Chairs, presents a man and woman who fill the stage with chairs for a lecture by a speaker who turns out to be mute. In Am’d”e, a corpse grows and grows to fill an apartment. The influence of Kafka is palpable; indeed, Ionesco remarked that ‘metamorphosis made a very deep impression on me.”49 Likewise, he saw thematic parallels between Rhinoceros and Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi. The nightmarish quality of the play points to Ionesco’s fascination with the ‘realism” of dreams, which he called “natural . . . not insane. It is logic that is in danger of becoming insane . . . logic is outside of life.”50

The nightmare element of the play is also expressed in the symbolic sets–including the proliferation of rhinoceroses’ heads, which become more beautiful as the play progresses–and could be heightened or downplayed, depending on the director’s choices. Rhinoceros received its world premiere, ironically enough, in 1959 in D’sseldorf, where it received fifty-eight curtain calls. By January 1961 it had been directed by Orson Welles at the Royal Court Theatre in London, with Laurence Olivier as Berenger, as well as by Jean-Louis Barrault in Paris and by Joseph Anthony in a Broadway production starring Zero Mostel as Jean and Eli Wallach as Berenger. An unsuccessful film version, directed by Tom O’Horgan and starring Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder, was produced in 1974.

These productions differed most in how the directors approached the tone of the play and the mechanics of the characters’ transformations into rhinoceroses. Both the French and the American productions were comic, but the French production used masks for the beasts while the American production relied on an inner transformation portrayed by the actors. Indeed, Mostel’s transformation is still the stuff of theater lore. While he did not object to the use of inner transformations, Ionesco rejected the American production, which he deemed insufficiently tragicomic and overly comic. He also found Wallach, as Berenger, too much of an individualist and too little of a hero in spite of himself, and Mostel too likeable as Jean.51

Although the play remains Ionesco’s most famous work, it was not uniformly appreciated at its inception. In contrast with Ionesco’s earlier success The Bald Soprano, in which he brilliantly parodied the language of an English conversation text he was studying, Rhinoceros was criticized by some as being a labored farce, overly long and too accessible. Bertrand Poirot-Delpech wrote in Le Monde, “. . . after his brilliant discovery of the strangeness of banality [in The Bald Soprano], Ionesco [has] fallen, en route, into the banality of strangeness and into the sermonizing symbolism he so vehemently denounced.”52 Nevertheless, the play made Ionesco an international phenomenon, and he has been canonized as an influence on writers ranging from Tom Stoppard and Edward Albee to Christopher Durang and the creators of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. The man who jokingly said that he would have rather been a saint than a playwright53 seems to have had his wish come true.


While Slawomir Mrozek (pronounced ‘swavomir Mrozhek”) might be the least famous of the playwrights in this anthology to readers in the U.S., he is widely regarded in Europe as one of the most important playwrights of the post–World War II period. Tango, his first full-length play, has been described as “the most explosive event in the theatrical history of Poland for half a century.”54 While it might be easy to pigeonhole the play as merely a political statement, its issues carry over to the same existential questions that concern the other playwrights represented in this anthology. Placing it in the context of its time, critics like Martin Esslin have also grouped Mrozek with those writers who eminently deserve our praise for “[having defied] naked violence and oppression, kept the true ­human spirit alive against all odds and preserved the tradition and pre-­eminence of their national culture in the face of a determined and ruthless attempt to eradicate it. That is an achievement for which we all, of whichever nationality, must be grateful.”55

Born near Cracow in 1930, Mrozek began his career as a cartoonist and humor writer, moving on to playwriting in the late 1950s. He began a life in exile in Italy and France in 1963, and after he protested the Soviet crackdown on Czechoslovakia in 1968, his plays were banned from performance in Poland. However, they continued to be published, and in 1974 the ban was lifted. Esslin and other scholars see Mrozek as having been greatly influenced by the generation of well-known Polish surrealist playwrights who preceded him; in particular, they cite Stanislaw Witkiewicz (pseudonym Witkacy), who wrote political satire and parody, as well as Witold Gombrowicz, a playwright and novelist who was exiled in Argentina.56

A parable in the form of a domestic drama, Tango is clearly preoccupied with the relationship between culture and power. In three generations of a family, Mrozek presents three different cultures: turn-of-the-century liberal Europe in Eugene and Eugenia, the rebellious, experimental 1920s in Stomil and Eleanor, and the rootless postwar youth in Arthur and Ala. Using this structure, Mrozek shows how the cultural revolution of the 1920s led to a destruction of values, as seen in Eleanor’s promiscuity and Stomil’s vacuity. Ironically, the revolution has only bred a greater desire for order on the part of their son, Arthur. Once those values are destroyed, however, he cannot reinstate them, even by force. Momentarily seduced by what he believes will be a victory, Arthur extols the virtues of power:

Everything depends on being strong and decisive. I am strong. Look at me then. I am the answer to your dreams . . . I am the act, the will, and the way. I am power . . . I can incarnate and disincarnate myself. I have here within me–everything.

Yet once he learns of Ala’s betrayal with Eddie, he realizes he cannot legislate morality and no longer has the will to wield his strength; as Esslin explains, “He is too human to be an exponent of the doctrine of naked power.”57 The ultimate survivors are the Eddies–those who have no compunctions about using force simply to consolidate their own power–and the Eugenes, who capitulate, allowing themselves to participate in the ultimate macho power game, the tango.

Many critics have cited the parallels between Tango and Hamlet, most notably in Arthur/Hamlet’s search for direction in light of his disgust over his mother’s promiscuity and his father’s lack of power. Following this line of analysis, Eddie is similar to Fortinbras, the man of action who takes charge after order is destroyed.58 Arthur’s turning away from Ala is also similar to Hamlet’s dejection over his belief that Ophelia has betrayed him. Further parallels have been drawn between Tango and Andrzej Wajda’s 1957 film Kanal, which follows the fate of a Polish Army company during the Warsaw uprising. In both works, a fascist tyrant destroys the protagonists and the tango “La Cumparsita” and a derby hat become important symbols.59

When viewed in the contemporary world of Central European theatre, Tango bears interesting comparisons with the other Western European plays in this anthology. Esslin has contrasted the Central European playwrights, including V”clav Havel and Tadeusz Rozewicz, with the Western Europeans and their open rejection of realism, noting the greater realism in the Central Europeans’ “form of satirical allegory . . . For they represented a totally absurd reality with great accuracy and sharpest insight.”60 He suggests that while it might be easy to categorize the Central Europeans as “political” writers, they are equally preoccupied with the questions of the human condition. Moreover, Esslin believes, this combination of concerns make the Central Europeans somewhat more profound than the Western Europeans:

The very fact that the creative artists in the region were confronted with the basic fact of the century, the ascendancy of the new pseudo-religion of orthodox Leninism-Stalinism, gave them a rele­vance and an importance and an incentive to see and think clearly what is implied, which, in many ways, made them superior in relevance and insight to the creative minds of the more comfortable and complacent West.61

Critics writing in English do not seem to have paid a lot of attention to two important aspects of the play: its inherent humor and its portrayal of women. The first act in particular, with its absurd juxtapositions and the performance of Stomil’s experimental piece on Adam and Eve, has tremendous possibility for a comic approach. As for the presentation of women, the play has a similar problem to that of Hamlet–the women are primarily springboards for action rather than major players, and the two younger women are defined primarily by their sexuality. Whether Mrozek is making a statement about how men view women or whether he has merely stereotyped them is not clear in the play.

Tango had its world premiere in Belgrade in January 1965, and its Polish premiere in Bydgoszcz in June 1965, but its triumphant opening in Warsaw on July 7, 1965 is considered its true premiere. The Royal Shakespeare Company presented the play, in a different translation adapted by Tom Stoppard, in May 1966, and the play had its off-Broadway premiere in 1969.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
Are Dead

Thirty years after the premiere of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, which catapulted Czech-born, English-educated Tom Stoppard into celebrity, Stoppard and his oeuvre continue to be the center of dispute among critics. When Rosencrantz was first produced, critics divided on virtually every aspect of the play. Was it, as Irving Wardle of The Times wrote, “a gravity-defying masterpiece,”62 or, as Robert Brustein wrote, “a theatrical parasite, feeding off Hamlet, Waiting for Godot, and Six Characters in Search of an Author.”63 Was Stoppard trying to make a statement about the meaninglessness of existence in a random universe, or merely “[manipulating] this premise instead of exploring it,”64 preferring instead to entertain the audience with Wildean wit and high comedy?

By its very nature, the play calls to mind other theatrical masterpieces; nor was Stoppard the first to be interested in Shakespeare’s courtiers. In 1891 W. S. Gilbert, the satirist of Gilbert and Sullivan fame, wrote a brief burlesque entitled Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in which Rosencrantz wins Ophelia away from Hamlet. Oscar Wilde described them in De Profundis as “types fixed for all time,” and T. S. Eliot in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” referred to them as:

One that will do

To swell a progress, start a scene or two,

Advise the prince; no doubt an easy tool,

Deferential, glad to be of use,

Politic, cautious and meticulous.

Wilde and Eliot are widely acknowledged as major influences on many of Stoppard’s plays, while the echoes of Beckett and Pirandello in this particular play are impossible to miss.65

The genesis of the play, however, can also be attributed to Stoppard’s agent. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead actually began as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Meet King Lear–a one-act verse comedy in which the king whom the courtiers meet on their arrival in England is Shakespeare’s own Lear; the play began where the present play ends. Eventually the play grew into a prose drama, first produced at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1966 and then in the next year in its present form by the National Theatre at the Old Vic, where it continued in repertory for three and a half years. Within a decade, it had been performed in twenty languages and been given 250 professional productions.66 In 1990, Stoppard directed his own film adaptation of the play, starring Gary Oldman and Tim Roth as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, respectively, and Richard Dreyfuss as the Player.

Stoppard has said his intention in writing the play was “to exploit a situation which seemed to me to have enormous dramatic and comic potential–of these two guys who in Shakespeare’s context don’t really know what they’re doing. The little they are told is mainly lies, and there’s no reason to suppose that they ever find out why they are killed.”67 As his hapless courtiers try to understand their ontological disorientation, they realize they have no memory of the past, and no sense of the present or future–they cannot even remember who is who, or decide how to pass the time. As Michael Billington has noted, they share with Beckett’s Vladimir and Estragon the fact that they “are caught in the familiar trap of seeming to possess free will while being at the mercy of erratic, unpredictable events that they do not understand.”68 Nevertheless, Stoppard has denied that he intended to write an existential play, saying, “I didn’t know what the word “existential” meant until it was applied to Rosencrantz. And even now existentialism is not a philosophy I find either attractive or plausible.”69 Yet he acknowledges that such an interpretation of Rosencrantz can be valid:

. . . it’s certainly true that the play can be interpreted in existential terms, as well as in other terms. But I must make clear that, insofar as it’s possible for me to look at my own work objectively at all, the element which I find most valuable is the one that other people are put off by–that is, that there’s often no single, clear statement in my plays.70

Critics have also found themselves grappling with the existential overtones of the play as they relate to the play’s metatheatrical nature. The theater-within-theater plot, the Player’s analysis of his art, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s role-playing ultimately comment on the courtiers’ inability to determine what is real and how their future is determined. As Guildenstern, in particular, realizes that any event can be convincingly acted, including the Player’s ‘death” in Act III, he gives up his questioning about what is true and real, and allows himself to disappear. Nevertheless, others have argued, there are two overriding principles, or ‘structures,” that determine the fate of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern–the very design of tragedy, which according to the Player is that “everyone who is marked for death dies,” and the plot of Shakespeare’s Hamlet itself. Thus while Vladimir and Estragon seem to be lost in a completely random universe, the accepting Rosencrantz and philosophical Guildenstern indeed are part of a larger design, albeit one they cannot comprehend.71

As the play moves ominously to Act III, with the bemused characters justifying their own murders in the interest of finding an order to their lives, the play grows in its emotional impact. Nevertheless, as Billington has noted, there remains a distance between characters and audience brought on by Stoppard’s trickery:

Beckett’s Waiting for Godot has a continuing resonance, because his characters are simpler, more naive, less resourceful, more poetic and, of course, go on bravely waiting. Stoppard’s play is, I suspect, less durable because it has less human content and because its puzzled heroes take on something of the alertness of their author who is pulling the all-too-visible strings.72

Stoppard’s manipulation of Shakespeare’s text in the interest of his characterizations has also angered some critics; in particular, Stoppard leaves out the ‘recorder” scene in Hamlet, in which Rosencrantz and Guildenstern appear at their most conniving. As a result, Brustein suggested, Stoppard “violate[s] the integrity of Shakespeare’s original conception”73 of the courtiers.

When Stoppard speaks of the play, he suggests that he was more interested in creating a style for it than in making a broad philosophical statement, that he was concerned with figuring out how to entertain an audience through “a series of small, large, and microscopic ambushes–which might consist of a body falling out of a cupboard, or simply an unexpected word in a sentence.”74 In performance, a critic has noted, “its aesthetic conceits and strings of apparent non sequiturs can achieve a curiously dynamic harmony by the integration of audience responses . . . Dialogue passages . . . acquire dramatic significance when spoken to reveal their complex and stunning rhythmic patterns.”75 Taken on its own merits and measured in these terms, Stoppard’s play is undoubtedly scintillating and provocative theater.

American Buffalo

David Mamet’s early play American Buffalo serves as a fitting coda to this anthology, both as a piece that builds upon the earlier works in this anthology, and as a harbinger of forms of theater that feel more contemporary to readers today. It is also, however, very much a play of the 1970s, in which the context of Watergate and Vietnam gave broader meaning to the spiritual paralysis faced by the would-be thieves in Don’s junk shop. The symbolic value of the play was often lost upon early, more traditional audiences and critics, who were taken aback by the stylized street language of ‘mamet-speak” and the lack of a conventional plot; a decade later, however, audiences had acquired enough perspective to return enthusiastically to revivals of the play, and a decade after that, Hollywood made a film version of it.

While Mamet has described the play as being about love,76 he generally speaks of it as a work “about the American ethic of business. About how we excuse all sorts of great and small betrayals and ethical compromises called business. I felt angry about business when I wrote the play.”77 A prime influence upon Mamet was Thorstein Veblen’s The Theory of the Leisure Class, in which Veblen warns that the frontier code of free enterprise would evolve into the predatory nature of American capitalism as acquisition of goods “by other methods than seizing comes to be accounted unworthy of man . . . The performance of productive work, or employment in personal service, falls under the same odium for the same reason.”78 As a result, Don, irate that he has perhaps not charged enough for his buffalo head nickel, wants to exact revenge on his customer rather than serve him. “Business,” he tells Bobby at the beginning of the play, “. . . is about people taking care of themselves . . . There’s business and there’s friendship.” Similarly, Teach defines free enterprise as “the freedom . . . of the Individual . . . to Embark on Any Fucking Course that he sees fit.” He adds with unintended irony, “In order to secure his honest chance to make a profit.”

All of the men in this play are the detritus of society, surrounded in the junk shop by the castoffs of the past, including items from the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. Paralyzed by and alienated from their society, they reach out to each other with talk. Mamet is best known for his stylized street talk, which he has likened to free verse; he complains that critics have often misunderstood it as straining to be naturalistic, when his intention is more poetic and theatrical.79 As many critics have suggested, in place of plot, language itself becomes the action of the play. Anne Dean has noted,

Perhaps more than those of any other American playwright, David Mamet’s works constitute a theatre of language: the lines spoken by his characters do not merely contain words that express a particular idea or emotion; they are the idea or emotion itself.80

The dialogue is brilliantly constructed to recognize the rhythms of intimacy and alienation, as well as the manipulations and capitulations of power games even in the simple act of saying good-bye. Teach’s language in particular shows how Mamet develops both character and action using language, whether Teach is spouting stream-of-consciousness obscenities about Ruthie, dropping words in a panic, resorting to clich’s which undercut his previous statements, or manipulating religious, military, and sexual images. John Lahr has noted that in “the hilarious brutal sludge of his characters’ speech, Mamet makes us hear panic and exhaustion.”81 Indeed, reading the scenes out loud most effectively conveys Mamet’s rhythms; Mamet acknowledges that he works hard on the meter of his lines, a quality we usually associate with more traditional poets and playwrights.82

Many of Mamet’s plays feature all-male casts; he seems fascinated by the interactions of men in a world without women. As C. W. E. Bigsby has noted, not only are women excluded from this world, but what the men perceive as “feminine” values disgust and threaten them.83 When Don tends to the bleeding Bobby, who has tried to show his loyalty to Don, Teach denigrates them, blurting, “You people make my flesh crawl.” The deeply misogynistic and homophobic nature of his remarks about Ruthie and the ‘mark,” when coupled with his need to have a gun to feel potent, show Teach’s deep-seated insecurities. When Al Pacino played Teach in the early 1980s, he apparently built on this perception by repeatedly touching his crotch, “as though talismanically touching base with the center of his being, confirming that everything was still intact.”84

After its premiere at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago in 1975, American Buffalo opened off-Broadway in 1976 and on Broadway, with Robert Duvall as Teach, the following year. Although the play won both an Obie and the New York Drama Critics’ Award as best play, the Broadway production closed after 150 performances. American Buffalo was quickly revived in 1981 in a production that moved over two years from the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven to New York’s Circle in the Square and then to Broadway. Directed by Arvin Brown and starring Al Pacino, the production was lighter in tone than Ulu Grosbard’s 1977 production, which Frank Rich described as highlighting with greater intensity the claustrophic nature of the play. Rich described Pacino’s performance in the Broadway revival of 1983 as an “energetic, fastidious star turn,” but ultimately a “calculated display of technique [that] has doused much of [the play’s] fire.”85 Jack Shepherd, who played Teach in London in the National Theatre production, deemed the role of Teach a very complicated one, saying that his performance only became authentic when he conveyed Teach’s frequent paradoxes by making his actions full of ‘darting movements and quick speech which suggested the contradictions within his personality . . . lots of physical tics and jerkiness.”86 In the film, Dustin Hoffman played Teach, Dennis Franz was Don, and Sean Nelson was Bobby, and Michael Corrente directed.

It is indeed ironic that the last play in this anthology–which has been faulted for being plotless–is also among the collection’s most traditional. Mamet has described the play in these terms:

American Buffalo is classical tragedy, the protagonist of which is the junk store owner who is trying to teach a lesson in how to behave like the excellent man to his young ward. And he is tempted by the devil into betraying his principles . . . because he abdicated a moral position for one moment in favor of some momentary gain, he has let anarchy into his life and has come close to killing the thing he loves. And he realizes at the end of the play that he has made a huge mistake, that rather than this young ward needing lessons in being an excellent man, it is he himself who needs those lessons.87

Whether one chooses to focus on the play as homage to the sticho­mythia of Beckett, the silences of Pinter, or the philosophy of Aristotle, American Buffalo and David Mamet in turn inspire today’s writers, and could serve as the first play in a new anthology of contemporary drama.

C. Video, Film, and
Archival Resources

Video Resources:

Waiting for Godot: A videotaped production of the San Quentin Drama Workshop, directed by Samuel Beckett, is available from:

The Video Catalog

P.O. Box 64267

St. Paul, MN 55164–0267


The Balcony: The 1963 film version, directed by Joseph Strick, is available in video from two sources:

Mystic Fire Video Ingram International Films

1-800-292-9001 1-800-621-1333

In NYC: 212-941-0999 In Iowa: 515-254-7000

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead: The 1990 film version, directed by Tom Stoppard, is available in video from two sources:

Buena Vista Home Video Facets Multimedia

1-818-562-3568 1-312-281-9075

Film Resources:

The Balcony: The 1963 film version, directed by Joseph Strick, is available from:

Sterling Educational Films

241 East 34th Street

New York, NY 10016


Teachers and professors in the New York City area will find a wealth of materials at the Billy Rose Theatre Collection of the Public Library for the Performing Arts, 40 Lincoln Center Plaza at 65th Street, 212-870-1630. In addition to clippings, programs, and performance histories for innumerable productions, tapes of these productions are available for viewing at the library:

Waiting for Godot: a 1961 TV production starring Zero Mostel; a 1971 production starring Henderson Forsythe; the 1988 production, directed by Mike Nichols and starring Steve Martin and Robin Williams

The Birthday Party: a 1989 production at the CSC Repertory

Rhinoceros: the 1974 film, directed by Tom O’Horgan, starring Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead: a 1991 Israeli production at BAM

D. Bibliography

Works by and about Bertolt Brecht and The Caucasian Chalk Circle:

Bartram, Graham, and Waine, Anthony, eds. Brecht in Perspective. London: Longman Group Ltd., 1982.

Bentley, Eric. The Brecht Commentaries. New York: Grove Press, 1981.

Brecht, Bertolt. Seven Plays by Bertolt Brecht. Edited by Eric Bentley. New York: Grove Press, 1961.

Demetz, Peter, ed. Brecht: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1962.

Esslin, Martin. Brecht: The Man and His Work. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1960. Reissued as Brecht: A Choice of Evils.

Ewen, Frederic. Bertolt Brecht. New York: The Citadel Press, 1967.

Fuegi, John. Brecht & Company. New York: Grove Press, 1994.

Fuegi, John. The Essential Brecht. Los Angeles: Hennessey & Ingalls, Inc., 1972.

Gray, Ronald. Bertolt Brecht. New York: Grove Press, 1961.

Grossvogel, David. Four Playwrights and a Postscript. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1962.

Hill, Claude. Bertolt Brecht. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1975.

Tynan, Kenneth. Curtains. NY: Atheneum, 1961.

Volker, Klaus. Brecht: A Biography. Translated by John Nowell. New York: Seabury Press, 1978.

Weideli, Walter. The Art of Bertolt Brecht. Translated by Daniel Russell. New York: NYU Press, 1963.

Willett, John. Brecht in Context. London: Methuen, 1984.

Willett, John. The Theatre of Bertolt Brecht. New York: New Directions, 1959.

Works by and about Samuel Beckett and Waiting for Godot:

Beckett, Samuel. I Can’t Go On. I’ll Go On. Edited by Richard Seaver. New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1976.

Beckett, Samuel. The Theatrical Notebooks of Samuel Beckett: Waiting for Godot. Edited by Dougald McMillan and James Knowlson. New York: Grove Press, 1994.

Burkman, Katherine H. The Arrival of Godot. Rutherford, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1986.

Cohn, Ruby. Samuel Beckett: The Comic Gamut. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1962.

Esslin, Martin. The Theatre of the Absurd, 3rd Edition. New York: Pelican Books, 1983.

Grossvogel, David. Four Playwrights and a Postscript. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1962.

Hoffman. Frederick J. Samuel Beckett: The Language of Self. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1962.

Kalb, Jonathan. Beckett in Performance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Kenner, Hugh. Samuel Beckett: A Critical Study. New York: Grove Press, 1961.

McMillan, Dougald and Fehsenfeld, Martha. Beckett in the Theatre. New York: Riverrun Press, 1988.

Shenker, Israel. ‘moody Man of Letters,” The New York Times, May 6, 1956.

Works by and about Friedrich D”rrenmatt and The Visit:

Arnold, Armin. Friedrich D”rrenmatt. Translated by Sheila Johnson. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1972.

D”rrenmatt, Friedrich. Problems of the Theatre and The Marriage of Mr. Mississippi. Translated by Gerhard Nellhaus. New York: Grove Press, 1964.

D”rrenmatt, Friedrich. Writings on the Theatre and Drama. Translated by H. M. Waidson. London: Jonathan Cape, 1976.

Pace, Eric. “Friedrich D”rrenmatt, Playwright Known for “The Visit,” Dies at 69,” The New York Times, December 15, 1990.

Peppard, Murray B. Friedrich D”rrenmatt. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1969.

Richards, David. “When Little Girls Grown into Dragon Ladies,” The New York Times, February 2, 1992.

Whitton, Kenneth S. D”rrenmatt: Reinterpretation in Retrospect. New York: Oswald Wolff, 1990.

Whitton, Kenneth S. The Theatre of Friedrich D”rrenmatt. New York: Oswald Wolff, 1980.

Works by and about Jean Genet and The Balcony:

Coe, Richard, ed. The Theater of Jean Genet: A Casebook. New York: Grove Press, 1970.

Coe, Richard. The Vision of Jean Genet. New York: Grove Press, 1968.

Esslin, Martin. The Theatre of the Absurd, 3rd Edition. New York: Pelican Books, 1983.

Genet, Jean. The Selected Writings of Jean Genet. Edited by Edmund White. New York: Ecco Press, 1993.

Grossvogel, David. Four Playwrights and a Postscript. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1962.

Knapp, Bettina. Jean Genet. Revised Edition. Boston: G. K. Hall & Co., 1989.

Plunka, Gene A. The Rites of Passage of Jean Genet. Rutherford, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1992.

White, Edmund. Genet: A Biography. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1993.

Works by and about Harold Pinter and The Birthday Party:

Almansi, Guido and Henderson, Simon. Harold Pinter. New York: Methuen, 1983.

Ayckbourn, Alan. “The Main Attraction: Where does playwright Harold Pinter find his extraordinary off-the-wall characters? They seek him out,” The Observer, March 6, 1994.

Burkman, Katherine. The Dramatic World of Harold Pinter: Its Basis in Ritual. Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Press, 1971.

Esslin, Martin. Theatre of the Absurd, 3rd Edition. New York: Pelican Books, 1983.

Gale, Steven. Butter’s Going Up. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1977.

Hayman, Ronald. Harold Pinter. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1973.

Hinchkiffe, Arnold P. Harold Pinter. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1981.

Knowles, Ronald. The Birthday Party and The Caretaker: Text and Performance. London: Macmillan Education Ltd., 1988.

Merritt, Susan Hollis. Pinter in Play: Critical Strategies and the Plays of Harold Pinter. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1990.

Pinter, Harold. “A View of the Party,” Poems. London: Enitharmon Press, 1971.

Silverstein, Marc. Harold Pinter and the Language of Cultural Power. Lewisburg, ME: Bucknell University Press, 1993.

Works by and about Eug”ne Ionesco and Rhinoceros:

Bonnefoy, Claude. Conversations with Eug”ne Ionesco. Translated by Jan Dawson. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1971.

Coe, Richard. Eug”ne Ionesco: A Study of His Work. New York: Grove Press, 1961.

Esslin, Martin. The Theatre of the Absurd, 3rd Edition. New York: Pelican Books, 1983.

Grossvogel, David. Four Playwrights and a Postscript. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1962.

Gussow, Mel. “Eug”ne Ionesco Is Dead at 84; Stage’s Master of Surrealism,” The New York Times, March 29, 1994.

Hayman, Ronald. Eug”ne Ionesco. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1976.

Ionesco, Eug”ne. Notes and Counter Notes. Translated by Donald Watson. New York: Grove Press, 1964.

Ionesco, Eug”ne. The Colonel’s Photograph. Translated by Jean Stewart and John Russell. New York: Grove Press, 1967.

Lahr, John. “Eug”ne Ionesco,” The New Yorker, April 11, 1994.

Lamont, Rosette C., ed. Ionesco: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1973.

Lane, Nancy. Understanding Eug”ne Ionesco. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1994.

Lewis, Allan. Ionesco. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1972.

Works by and about Slawomir Mrozek and Tango:

Bukoski, Anthony. “Wajda’s Kanal and Mrozek’s Tango, Literature/Film Quarterly 20, no. 2 (1992).

Esslin, Martin. ‘mrozek, Beckett, and the Theatre of the Absurd,” New Theatre Quarterly 10 (November 1994).

Esslin, Martin. The Theatre of the Absurd, 3rd Edition. New York: Pelican Books, 1983.

Gerould, Daniel. 20th Century Polish Avant-Garde Drama. Translated by Daniel Gerould in collaboration with Eleanor Gerould. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1977.

Mrozek, Slawomir. “Theatre vs. Reality,” translated by Piotr Kuhiwczak, New Theatre Quarterly 8 (November 1992).

Works by and about Tom Stoppard and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead:

Billington, Michael. Stoppard: The Playwright. London: Methuen, 1987.

Brassell, Tim. Tom Stoppard: An Assessment. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1985.

Brustein, Robert. “Waiting for Hamlet,” The Third Theatre. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1969.

Delaney, Paul. Tom Stoppard: The Moral Vision of the Major Plays. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990.

Jenkins, Anthony. The Theatre of Tom Stoppard. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

Londr”, Felicia Hardison. Tom Stoppard. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1981.

Rusinko, Susan. Tom Stoppard. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1986.

Stoppard, Tom. Interview, “Ambushes for the Audience: Towards a High Comedy of Ideas,” Theatre Quarterly IV, no. 14 (May–June 1974).

Tynan. Kenneth. Show People. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1979.

Whitaker, Thomas. Tom Stoppard. New York: Grove Press, 1983.

Works by and about David Mamet and American Buffalo:

Barbera, Jack V. “Ethical Perversity in America: Some Observations on David Mamet’s American Buffalo, Modern Drama 24, no. 3 (September 1981).

Bigsby, C. W. E. David Mamet. London: Methuen, 1985.

Carroll, Dennis. David Mamet. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1987.

Dean, Anne. David Mamet: Language as Dramatic Action. Rutherford, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1990.

Gottlieb, Richard. “The “Engine” That Drives David Mamet,” The New York Times, January 15, 1978.

Kane, Leslie. David Mamet: A Casebook. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1992.

Lahr, John. “Winners and Losers,” New Society, September 29, 1983.

Mamet, David. Some Freaks. New York: Viking Penguin, 1989.

Rich, Frank. “Al Pacino, “American Buffalo,”” The New York Times, October 28, 1983.

Schleuter, June and Forsythe, Elizabeth. “America as Junkshop: The Business Ethic in David Mamet’s American Buffalo,Modern Drama 26, no. 4 (December 1983).

Schvey, Henry. “Celebrating the Capacity for Self-Knowledge.” New Theatre Quarterly IV, no. 13 (February 1988).


1. John Fuegi, Brecht and Company (New York: Grove Press, 1994), 613.

2. Martin Esslin, Brecht: The Man and His Work (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1960), 115–116.

3. lbid., 139.

4. Kenneth Tynan, Curtains (New York: Atheneum, 1961), 390.

5. Eric Bentley, ed., Seven Plays of Bertolt Brecht (New York: Grove Press, 1961), xlviii.

6. John Fuegi, The Essential Brecht (Los Angeles: Hennessey & Ingalls, Inc., 1972), 145.

7. Ronald Gray, Bertolt Brecht (New York: Grove Press, 1961), 105.

8. Dougald McMillan and Martha Fehsenfeld, Beckett in the Theatre (New York: Riverrun Press, 1988), 59.

9. Hugh Kenner, Samuel Beckett: A Critical Study (New York: Grove Press, 1961), 67.

10. McMillan & Fehsenfeld, op. cit., 59.

11. Ruby Cohn, Samuel Beckett: The Comic Gamut (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1962), 216.

12. Martin Esslin, The Theatre of the Absurd (New York: Pelican Books, 1983), 49.

13. Jonathan Kalb, Beckett in Performance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 73–74.

14. Ibid., 33.

15. From a 1970 interview with The Christian Science Monitor, quoted in Eric Pace, “Friedrich D”rrenmatt, Playwright Known for “The Visit,” Dies at 69,” The New York Times, December 15, 1990, 13.

16. Kenneth S. Whitton, D”rrenmatt: Reinterpretation in Retrospect (New York: Oswald Wolff, 1990), 114.

17. Friedrich D”rrenmatt, Problems of the Theatre and the Marriage of Mr. Mississippi (New York: Grove Press, 1964). 32.

18. Murray B. Peppard, Friedrich D”rrenmatt (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1969), 58.

19. Armin Arnold, Friedrich D”rrenmatt, trans. Sheila Johnson (New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1972), 42.

20. David Richards, “When Little Girls Grow into Dragon ­Ladies,” The New York Times, February 2, 1992, Sec. 2, p. 5.

21. Edmund White, Genet: A Biography (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1993), 423.

22. Ibid., 413.

23. Ibid., 415.

24. Richard Coe, The Vision of Jean Genet (New York: Grove Press, 1968), 197.

25. Genet in 1957, quoted in White, op. cit., 414.

26. Peter Brook, in an interview in L”Express, May 19, 1960, reprinted in Richard Coe, ed., The Theater of Jean Genet: A Casebook (New York: Grove Press, 1970), 98–99.

27. Kenneth Tynan, ‘something for Everybody,” The Observer, April 28, 1957, reprinted in Richard Coe, op. cit., 87–88.

28. Esslin, The Theatre of the Absurd, op. cit., 221. A good summary of the different critics’ views on this issue can be found in Gene A. Plunka, The Rites of Passage of Jean Genet (Rutherford, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1992), 211–212.

29. Plunka, op. cit., 196.

30. Tynan as quoted in Richard Coe, The Vision of Jean Genet, op. cit., 191.

31. Quoted in Arnold P. Hinchkiffe, Harold Pinter (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1981), 50.

32. Esslin, The Theatre of the Absurd, op. cit., 240–241.

33. Ibid., 240.

34. Steven Gale, Butter’s Going Up (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1977), 48.

35. Ibid., 55.

36. Ronald Knowles, The Birthday Party and The Caretaker: Text and Performance (London: Macmillan Education Ltd., 1988), 70.

37. Harold Pinter, “A View of the Party,” Poems (London: Enitharmon Press, 1971), 34.

38. Ronald Hayman, Harold Pinter (New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1973), 33.

39. Guido Almansi and Simon Henderson, Harold Pinter (New York: Methuen, 1983), 12.

40. Ibid., 34.

41. Alan Ayckbourn, “The Main Attraction: Where does playwright Harold Pinter find his extraordinary off-the-wall characters? They seek him out,” The observer, March 6, 1994, 9.

42. Eug”ne Ionesco, Present Past Past Present: A Personal Memoir, trans. Helen R. Lane, (New York: Grove Press, 1971), 80.

43. Ionesco, in an interview in Claude Bonnefoy, Conversations with Eug”ne Ionesco, trans. Jan Dawson, (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1971), 40.

44. Ionesco, quoted in John Lahr, “Eug”ne Ionesco,” The New Yorker, April 11. 1994, 94.

45. Ionesco, quoted in Bonnefoy, op. cit., 70.

46. Ibid., 111.

47. Allan Lewis, Ionesco (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1972), 70–72.

48. Ionesco, quoted in Rosette C. Lamont, ed., Ionesco: A Collection of Critical Essays (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1973), 7.

49. Ionesco, quoted in Bonnefoy, op. cit., 39.

50. Ibid., 111.

51. Lewis, op. cit., 73.

52. Quoted in Bonnefoy, op. cit., 179.

53. Myrna Oliver, “Eug”ne Ionesco, Godfather of the Absurd,” The Los Angeles Times, March 29, 1994, A18.

54. Esslin, The Theatre of the Absurd, op. cit., 319.

55. Martin Esslin, ‘mrozek, Beckett, and the Theatre of the Absurd,” New Theatre Quarterly 10 (November 1994): 381.

56. Esslin, The Theatre of the Absurd, op. cit., 317; also Daniel Gerould, 20th Century Polish Avant-Garde Drama, translated by Daniel Gerould in collaboration with Eleanor Gerould (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1977), 83.

57. Ibid., 320.

58. Gerould, op. cit., 81; also Esslin, The Theatre of the Absurd, op. cit., 319.

59. Anthony Bukoski, “Wajda’s Kanal and Mrozek’s Tango, Literature/Film Quarterly 20, no. 2 (1992): 133–137.

60. Esslin, ‘mrozek, Beckett, and the Theatre of the Absurd,” op. cit., 378.

61. Ibid., 380.

62. Quoted in Michael Billington, Stoppard: The Playwright (London: Methuen, 1987), 29.

63. Robert Brustein, “Waiting for Hamlet,” The Third Theatre (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1969), 149.

64. Ibid., p. 149.

65. Billington, op. cit., 30–31.

66. Felicia Hardison Londr”, Tom Stoppard (New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1981), 44.

67. Interview with Stoppard, “Ambushes for the Audience: Towards a High Comedy of Ideas,” New Theatre Quarterly IV, no. 14 (May–June 1974): 6.

68. Billington, op. cit., 32.

69. Interview with Stoppard, “Ambushes for the Audience,”op. cit., 6.

70. Ibid., 6.

71. Tim Brassell, Tom Stoppard: An Assessment (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1985), 53.

72. Billington, op. cit., 38.

73. Brustein, op. cit., 152.

74. Interview with Stoppard, “Ambushes for the Audience,” op. cit., 6.

75. Londr”, op. cit., 46.

76. Interview with Gregory Mosher by Leslie Kane, published in Leslie Kane, David Mamet: A Casebook (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1992), 239.

77. Richard Gottlieb, “The “Engine” That Drives David Mamet.” The New York Times, January 15, 1978, Sec. 2, p. 4.

78. Thorstein Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure Class: An Economic Study of the Evolution of Institutions (London: Macmillan, 1925), 17, as quoted in Anne Dean, David Mamet: Language as Dramatic Action (Rutherford, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1990), 92.

79. Dean, op. cit., 17–18.

80. Ibid., 15.

81. John Lahr, “Winners and Losers,” New Society, September 29, 1983: 476.

82. Dean, op. cit., 18.

83. C. W. E. Bigsby, David Mamet (London: Methuen, 1985), 124–125.

84. Hersh Zeifman, “Phallus in Wonderland: Machismo and Business in David Mamet’s American Buffalo and Glengarry Glen Ross,” in Kane, op. cit., 126.

85. Frank Rich, “Al Pacino, “American Buffalo,”” The New York Times, October 28, 1983, C3.

86. Dean, op. cit., 98–99.

87. Interview by Henry I. Schvey, “Celebrating the Capacity for Self-Knowledge,” New Theatre Quarterly IV, no. 13 (February 1988): 94.

About the Author

Lois Refkin teaches English at Hunter College High School, a public laboratory school for gifted students in New York City, following experience teaching in Tokyo and working as an associate editor at Random House. She has studied theatre and performance extensively, most recently in Stratford-upon-Avon in a summer fellowship sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Ms. Refkin’s varied experience as a scholar in the humanities includes coauthoring a study guide to accompany “YeahYou Rite!”, a documentary film about New Orleans accents produced by the Center for New American Media, and mentoring students in the National Endowment for the Humanities Younger Scholars’ Program. In 1996, she received a research award from the City University of New York to investigate the issue of family disintegration among turn-of-the-century Jewish immigrants. Ms. Refkin is also a regular contributor to the Japanese magazine English Journal. She received her B.A. in English Language and Literature from Wesleyan University and her M.A. in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University. Ms. Refkin is currently a Ph.D. candidate in American Studies at New York University.


Many thanks to Louis and Isaac Alvarez, Eric Price, Carol Rawlings, Phyllis and Martin Refkin, and ever-patient editor Allison Draper for their support and guidance.