History of Western Theatre: 17th Century to Now/East European Post-WWII

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Sławomir Mrożez[edit]

Slawomir Mrozek describes a young man who resents his father's liberal views, 2006

Of interest in the East European theatre after WWII is the Polish playwright Sławomir Mrożek (1930-?) and his family saga, "Tango" (1964). As described by Esslin (1968, p 321), "the tango here is the symbol of what the original impulse to revolt was about. For when the tango was a new and daring dance, the generation of Arthur's parents was fighting for their right to dance the tango. At the end of the road, when the revolt against traditional values has destroyed all values and nothing is left except naked power- Eddie's power, the power of the brainless mass- the tango is being danced on the ruins of the civilized world."


Tango dance maneuver

Time: 1960s. Place: Poland.

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Arthur is angry at seeing his great-uncle, Eugene, play cards instead of writing his memoirs. To punish him, he places a bird-cage over his head. He also commands his grandmother, Eugenia, to lie inside a coffin with lit candles beside it. Arthur next scolds his father, Stomil, for walking about with his pajama bottom improperly buttoned up, but he ignores him. The father reminds him it is thanks to his generation that he is so free, but Arthur regrets such freedom, "in this brothel where nothing works because everyone can do whatever he pleases". But to Stomil, "every man is entitled to his own kind of happiness". Arthur continues to speak of this theme to Eugene. "Don't you realize that, precisely because everything is possible, nothing is possible anymore?" he asks. The loss of tradition and convention have made revolt impossible. Considering himself an artist, Stomil presents to the family a puppet-play on Adam and Eve. After a few exchanges, the lights go out and a gun-shot is heard, with the result that he is the only one amused. Arthur challenges his father by announcing that a supposed friend of the family, Eddie, sleeps with his wife, Eleanor. But after Stomil proposes to shoot him, Arthur discovers his father playing cards with both. Having failed to do anything with his father, Arthur next attempts to turn the clock back by convincing Ala to marry him. She hesitates but finally accepts. When he asks for Eugenia's blessing, she hesitates. Glad of this turn of events, her brother, Eugene, threatens to shoot her unless she does. She finally yields. On the wedding day, there is a newly discovered order in the household, though Stomil remains doubtful as to whether it can be maintained. "Formalism will never free you from chaos," he prophesies to Eugene. Eleanor is also glad of this turn of events, still enthusiastic about Eddie acting as both her servant and lover. But at the last moment, Arthur no longer wants to go through with the ceremony, empty of any meaning, still looking for an idea to build an entire life on. A sick Eugenia enters the coffin a second time, but this time to die. This gives Arthur the idea that death is the best idea of all. He begins by condemning Eugene to death and is about to enforce it when Eddie kills him from behind. In view of the family's weakness to decide on anything, it is now Eddie's turn to command. To celebrate the coming of a new family order based on old traditions, he dances a tango with Eugene.

Vaclav Havel[edit]

Vaclav Havel described turmoils suffered by a professor of philosophy under the unknown threat of state authorities, 2000

Czechoslovakian drama achieved notoriety with "Largo desolato" (1984) by Vaclav Havel (1936-2011). Havel also wrote "Vyrozumění" (The memorandum, 1965) and "Asanace" (Redevelopment, 1987).

"Largo desolato"[edit]

Time: 1980s. Place: Czechoslovakia.

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Leopold, a professor of philosophy, is sick with anxiety about receiving a visit from state authorities; he dares not even leave his house in fear of the consequences of being found missing. He often looks through the peep-hole of the main door. His friend, Edward, can find nothing to say to calm him down. One day, Leopold receives the visit of two men named Sidney, but these are not the men he fears. On the contrary, they work in a paper mill and arrive to express their admiration of his stand. They believe that everything will work out well in the end provided he remain firm. They also specify that considering many people look up to him, he should be doing more than he does. Their talk is interrupted by Leopold's friend, Lucy. When the two men leave, she soon initiates love-making. "You need love," she affirms, "real love, mad passionate love, not that theoretical one you write about." He submits to her blandishments. Another of Leopold's friends, Bertram, expresses fears that he will crack under the strain and let all his friends down. "What happened to your perspective on things?" Bertram wonders, "your humor, industry, and persistence? the pointedness of your observations, your irony and self-irony, your capacity for enthusiasm, emotional involvement, commitment, even sacrifice?" Impatient to hear Bertram speak, Lucy appears covered only in a bedspread and so he goes away. To her, Leopold admits that he has fallen apart under the pressure just before two men expected to show up at last appear and order two assistants to remove the woman from the premises. The main purpose of their visit is for Leopold to deny having written a book he wrote: "Ontology of the human self". He hesitates, asks for time to think. On learning of this matter, his wife, Suzana, is surprised at his hesitation. "If you can't take it, you should never have gotten into it," she avers. The two Sidneys return to offer encouragement and carry suitcases containing office supplies and files of information he can use to write more books. Bertram wants to support him but is useless as a friend, Suzana is baffled at to what he need consider, Lucy is hurt that he seems to turn away from her. He next receives the visit of a philosophy student, Marguerite, an admirer who looks to him for help in life. In his crisis, she also wishes to help him. "You need love, mad passionate true love," she concludes, as did Lucy. After spotting the two men he must answer to, Leopold advises her to leave the room and head for the balcony. Leopold tells his visitors that he refuses to comply. The two men retort that his answer is irrelevant. "Your case has been adjourned indefinitely," the first man announces. "Indefinitely for the time being," the second man specifies. "I don't want an adjournment," Leopold cries out. "I want to go there." After the two men leave, Leopold continues to look through the peep-hole of the main door.