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THEATRE OF THE ABSURD: ESSENTIAL READING LIST

  • The Theatre of the Absurd - The book by Martin Esslin that coined the term "Theatre of the Absurd." Primarily deals with the five defining playwrights of the movement: Eugene Ionesco, Samuel Beckett, Jean Genet, Arthur Adamov, and Harold Pinter.
  • Waiting for Godot - Samuel Beckett's classic tragicomedy is known for its lack of plot--"Nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes, it's awful!" Two old tramps beneath a single tree make jokes to pass the time and reflect on the state of human existence while they wait for Godot--who never comes. A classic play of the absurd.
  • Endgame - Beckett's second play. Whereas Waiting for Godot was concerned with the theme of waiting, Endgame is on the subject of leaving, on the necessity of reaching the door. We have the impression of watching the end of something, the end possibly of the human race.
  • Rhinoceros - Demonstrates Ionesco's anxiety about the spread of inhuman totalitarian tendencies in society as the entire population of a small, provincial French town turn into savage pachyderms.
  • The Bald Soprano and Other Plays - A collection of short plays by Ionesco that contains such gems as The Bald Soprano, The Chairs and Jack or the Submission.
  • The Balcony - Influenced by the Theater of Cruelty, this play by Jean Genet is set inside the Grand Balcony bordello, a brothel and repository of illusion in a contemporary European city aflame with revolution. After the city's royal palace and rulers are destroyed, the bordello's costumed patrons impersonate the leaders of the city. As the masqueraders warm to their roles, they convince even the revolutionaries that the illusion created in the bordello is preferable to reality.
  • Tango - In this play by Slawomir Mrozek, a young man who has grown up in a world without values stages a revolution to restore order, only to discover that order cannot be imposed by force.
  • Three Plays of the Absurd - In this collection of plays, Walter Wykes creates a series of modern myths, tapping into something in the strata of the subconscious, through ritualism and rich, poetic language. The worlds he creates are brand new and hilarious, yet each contains an ancient horror we all know and cannot escape and have never been able to hang one definitive word on.
  • Le Ping-Pong - One of the few plays by absurdist playwright Arthur Adamov available in English, Le Ping-Pong is a parable on the futility of human endeavour. It tells the story of two young men who waste their lives away in the futile attempt to build the perfect pinball machine.
  • The Dumb Waiter - Reminiscent of Waiting for Godot, this play by Harold Pinter concerns two hired killers waiting around for their next assignment.
  • The Birthday Party - Another play by Pinter, this one follows a young man seeking shelter from a hostile world. Although he, at first, finds a sort of safe house, two visitors from his old life soon track him down.
  • Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead - Tom Stoppard weaves this fabulously absurd tale of Hamlet as told from the worm's-eye view of the bewildered Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, two minor characters in Shakespeare's play.
  • Fuddy Meers - This play by David Lindsay-Abaire, who the New York Observer calls "some kind of comic genius," revolves around an amnesiac, Claire, who wakes up every morning as a blank slate, on which her family must imprint the facts of her life.
  • The Homecoming - Pinter's tale of a man who takes his wife on a visit to his childhood home where she becomes entangled in the family's dysfunctional past.
  • The Marriage - This play by Witold Gombrowicz is both a profound expression of the shattered consciousness of postwar European culture and a highly innovative, avant-garde treatment of the nature of personal identity in a world where grimaces have replaced faces and reality itself is accessible only in infinitely reflexive, theatrical posturing.
  • The Other Shore - This collection of plays by Nobel Prize-winning Chinese playwright Gao Xingjian illuminates the realities of life, death, sex, loneliness, and exile with original imagery and beautiful language.
  • Reading the Apocalypse in Bed - Six astonishingly radical plays and ten short pieces from Tadeusz Rozewicz, one of the most important playwrights of the Theatre of the Absurd to emerge from the aftermath of World War II.

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