Abell, Kjeld 1901–1961
Abell was a Danish dramatist and screenwriter. In his work he sought to reveal the passive conformity of the bourgeoisie, the dangers of Nazism, and the erosion of moral integrity in modern life. In his highly regarded Anna Sophie Hedvig, even murder is vindicated as a means of achieving justice. With technical innovation, whimsy, and symbolic device, Abell created persuasive dramas concerned more with topical problems than character development. His early work bears the influence of the expressionist movement in drama, while subsequent plays reflect a more realistic approach.
BøRge Gedsø Madsen
BØRGE GEDSØ MADSEN
Abell has been a bold experimenter with dramatic form who has enriched Danish drama with a variety of expressionistic techniques. For some of these he is indebted to Strindberg whom he admired greatly. Kjeld Abell has, moreover, in the best of his dramas been a thoughtful and—despite all his playfulness and wit—serious critic of his times. It is this latter aspect of his work which is my subject.
There are three major motifs in Kjeld Abell's theater: (1) satire of bourgeois life and values (middle-class conventionality and respectability are seen by Abell as stifling to all human spontaneity, originality and joy of life); (2) criticism of political neutrality or indifference and moral passivity, connected with a call for active resistance to oppressive totalitarian forces; (3) criticism of emotional coldness and lack of solidarity with others in certain types of modern intellectuals, coupled with a conviction that emotional warmth and solidarity are found in the common people.
If the ballet Enken i Spejlet (1934) is excepted, Abell's satirical attack on bourgeois conventionality is embodied mainly in his two expressionistic comedies, Melodien, der blev vaek (1935) and Eva aftjener sin Barnepligt (1936), although this kind of satire appears sporadically in later plays as well. At the opening of Melodien the average Danish white-collar worker...
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Frederick J. Marker
In general, astonishing technical virtuosity coupled with a prolific ability to devise new and provocative forms of theater are the qualities which set Abell's contribution apart from that of any other playwright of his generation in Scandinavia. "Why is there anything in the theater called realism?" he demanded in a seminal essay from the thirties. "Can theater ever be realistic? Has 'the human comedy' anything to do with everyday reality?… Must the actors always stand facing the audience?… Who has decreed how reality should look? Does it always look like that?" As his art deepened, the questions multiplied, and their urgency seemed to increase. Underlying his restless quest for an imaginative and "retheatricalized" theater is the fundamental purpose to which he incessantly returns in his theoretical writing: to restore the spectator, narcotized by the literal-mindedness of the naturalistic style, to his rightful function as an active participant in the theatrical event. (p. 19)
The interplay between ballet and theater is … a significant factor in Abell's early career…. [His] exposure to "the wordless theater" of ballet taught him to control "theatrical space, the abstract, invisible space, spatial balance created by the precision of movement and the will of the silent word." Ballet-drama sharpened and extended the range of his ability to integrate nonverbal elements and effective visual imagery into his theatrical poetry....
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