Together with Samuel Beckett, Eugène Ionesco, and, to a lesser degree, Jean Genet, Arthur Adamov helped define and develop new directions in French drama during the early 1950’s. His early works contributed significantly to what Esslin has called the Theater of the Absurd . Drawn in large measure from his own experience of emotional disturbance, informed by his acquaintance with the works of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, Adamov’s earliest and best-known plays were hailed for their striking and memorable imagery, and he was ranked briefly with Ionesco and Beckett as a master of the new, nonrepresentational theater. Around 1956, however, Adamov suddenly and resolutely turned his back on the type of playwriting that had brought him fame and success, preferring instead to follow in the footsteps of Bertolt Brecht. Going so far as to repudiate all his earlier work as irrelevant, Adamov in his fifties devoted his not inconsiderable energy and talents to the further development of a committed, didactic theater—with results that were judged generally inferior to even the lesser works of his earlier mode. Of his later efforts, only the first, Paolo Paoli, in fact a transitional work, bears comparison with such earlier works as Ping-Pong and Professor Taranne. Never able to recover the spirit or momentum of his earlier success, Adamov committed suicide at the age of sixty-one.
Even at the height of his powers, Adamov remained relatively unknown in the English-speaking world, despite the vigorous efforts of such critics as Esslin, George Wellwarth, and Jacques Guicharnaud. Among the few of his works to be translated into English (and performed by university drama groups) were Professor Taranne, Tous contre tous (all against all), and Ping-Pong. Since his death, Adamov’s reputation as a dramatist has dwindled considerably, suggesting that the reputation of his early plays may have been inflated. Today, few critics, even among Adamov’s erstwhile champions, would consider his work to be on a par with that of Beckett, Ionesco, or even Genet. His importance must thus be seen as primarily historical: He helped define the form, shape, and fortune of contemporary drama.