Critical Context

Arthur Kopit has generally been considered a part of the Theater of the Absurd movement from his first commercial success, Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mama’s Hung You in the Closet and I’m Feelin’ So Sad: A Pseudoclassical Tragifarce in a Bastard French Tradition (pr., pb. 1960). In the final moment of the play, Madame Rosepettle enters the bedroom to find that her son, Jonathan, has just killed the young woman who attempted to seduce him as he lay draped over his father’s corpse. Surveying this chaos, she asks “What is the meaning of this?” The impossibility of any reasonable answer is precisely the absurdist’s point.

The failure of language as a means of communication is introduced in the character of Jonathan, who cannot speak without stammering. This issue is taken to an extreme in The Day the Whores Come out to Play Tennis (pr., pb. 1965) as a group of men aimlessly debate methods of getting rid of the women who have taken over the tennis courts of their country club. Finally, in Wings, Mrs. Stilson questions the very structure and validity of language.

The question of personal identity or authenticity is pursued in Chamber Music (pb. 1965). A group of women incarcerated in an insane asylum meet to take action to curb a series of hostile incidents. In the cast list, the women are identified only by external qualities, and the question of personal identity is further complicated by the fact that each...

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