Absurdism lends itself to theatrical expression because theatre has a logic and language of its own that, when violated, underlines the absurdity of the message. Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, can serve as an example of the gradual shift from rational theatre to absurdism – the audience enters the theatre expecting to see the psychological dramatization of the tribulations of two tramps as they struggle to survive on meager food, regular beatings, and a routine of activity. Instead, they (the audience members) are taken through a series of nonsensical activities with little “sense” whatsoever, and are then exposed to the truth that their own lives are equally “absurd” – meaningless, directionless, unpurposed, because they too are “waiting for Godot,” that is, waiting for some “other” force to “order” their existence. A purer form of absurdity can be found in Eugene Ionesco’s plays, which feature a proliferation of objects – chairs, rhinoceroses, kings – to demonstrate the absurdity of individuality and personality. One of the most effective means of getting the Absurdist message across is to penetrate the illusion of order, of cause-effect reality. On stage, this is done by convoluting the automatic assumption that one action will lead logically to a result – Scribe’s centuries old skeleton of “exposition, complication, development, denouement” is set aside to present instead a seies of accumulating non-sequitors, as in Allan Kaprow’s Happenings, seeming arbitrary events following their own non-structure. Absurdism, a grandson of Dada, Expressionism, Futurism, and Surrealism, seeks to do the opposite of Realism, and ever since Ibsen and Chekhov, the stage is the best platform to “eff the ineffable.”
Theater of the Absurd, or absurdism, is a term coined by theater critic Martin Esslin to describe set of particular plays written in the mid-20th century, as well as later plays that were written in the same tradition. Esslin pointed to these plays as illustrative of a philosophy by Albert Camus, which says that life has no inherent meaning. Plays associated with this movement generally share several characteristics, including nonsense dialogue, repetitive or meaningless action, and non-realistic or impossible plots.
In his 1961 essay, Esslin classified four playwrights as leaders of the movement: Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco, Arthur Adamov and Jean Genet. Later, Esslin also included British playwright Harold Pinter to this group, and classified some of the works of Tom Stoppard, Edward Albee and Jean Tardieu as also belonging to absurdist theater as well.
The Theater of the Absurd movement began as experimental theater in Paris. As a result, even after the spread of the form to other country, absurdist plays were often written in French. The first large major production of an absurdist play was Jean Genet's The Maids in 1947. Ionesco's The Bald Soprano was first performed in 1950, and Samuel Beckett's Waiting For Godot, probably the best known of all such plays, premiered in January 1953.