The houselights are flickering in the lobby. Signaling that the performers are prepared to perform. I did not want to see this play. If fact, I have been trying to find my exit since November 6, 2016, but alas, to no avail; so the collection of empty rum bottles continues to grow. That makes me a solid candidate for A&E Network’s Hoarders. A call from my agent informing me of a scheduled “cattle call” (and that he has dispatched a taxi to rescue me) not forthcoming, I’m forced yet again to play my part as a disrespected audience member in this show’s endless engagement. There has been no revival of this play. It has been running unabated and without going dark since the dawn of . . . what shall I say, since the age of enlightenment? Well, in the good ol’ U.S. of A. today, that’s an oxymoron if ever there was one.
“It’s all the same, only the names will change. Every day it seems we’re wasting away. Another place where the faces are so cold.”1 In this repackaged, re-purposed, political play we are witnessing, anguish and torment are in full bloom, right alongside of glee, aggrandizement, and cold delusional grandiosity. As I watch the players prepare to take the stage, while their engorged groupies look on in awe, sitting here in the section for the clinically depressed, it comes to me . . . the absurdity of it all is suddenly and surprisingly crystal clear. An inkling of where I am at arrives at long last, leading straightaway to an epiphany—that I am trapped inside “The Theater of the Absurd.”
The art form of the Theater of the Absurd rose to prominence post-World War II. All art is a reflection of artists attempting to either reflect, or make sense of, the world in which they live—or an attempt to create a world in which they wished they lived. Escapism has its place; hence my musings. Whether the art form is visual using brushes, canvases, palettes, film, video, Photoshop, etc., or is audial using musical instruments and/or voice, or is philosophical in nature using paper and pen (or monitor and keyboard), or is a combination of all disciplines of art combined (think theater and movies), the artist is simply trying to survive. At its core, art is a coping mechanism for the artist—and subsequently for its audience.
The Theater of the Absurd is no exception. It is deeply philosophical. “It aims to shock its audience out of complacency, to bring it face to face with the harsh facts of the human situation. . . .”2 wrote Esslin in Absurd Drama’s introduction. It is masked with fear, absurdity and laughter. It is escapism at its very best. Its vehicle is the human condition. It uses existentialism as its overtones and its guiding light (Jean-Paul Sartre’s complicated relationship with it not withstanding). It expresses communication breakdown and a void of purpose in existence; a cause and effect relationship. Logic and rational fade into irrational thought and illogical speech. It ends in silence. And therein that void, it attempts to subconsciously instill in the audience a pursuit of an opposite ending. A different curtain call.
In the United States of America, my land of sweet liberty, when the most senior advisor to the President of the United States of America can utter with impunity: “The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen….”3 You know that you have a front row seat to the Theater of the Absurd. You know that you are witnessing irrational thought and illogical speech in its finest hour; communication breakdown in all of its lack of glory. All Americans should be both outraged and insulted by such a blatant show of disrespect to our founding fathers and their principles, to our Constitution, to the First Amendment, to decency, to decorum, to our Fourth Estate. To not be, to continue down that road, to willingly and with forethought allow that sentiment to mutate unchecked in its Petri dish is, for all practical purposes, akin to blindly boarding a holocaust train . . . knowing full-well its destination and end result.
“Are you still listening? Fear is the lock and laughter the key.”4 Yes, the Theater of the Absurd relies on laughter to release its audience from the horrors of communication breakdown, from irrational thought and illogical speech, and a void of purpose in existence . . . to free the audience from silence.
Hopefully, political blindness has not blocked our subconscious minds from humor, from a realization that there’s still time to change the road we’re on. That there’s time for a different curtain call. That there’s time for the train to switch tracks. With any luck, a taxi’s blowing its horn for me….
Post Scriptum: This piece is dedicated to my friend and former fellow street performer, Dan McLellan, MFA.
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