Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1546
Arthur Adamov (1908–1970)
Arthur Adamov was born August 23, 1908, in Kislovodsk, Russia, to Sourene and Helene Bagatourov Adamov, wealthy Armenians who were in the oil business. The family moved to Paris when Adamov was twelve, and he was educated in Switzerland and Germany. Although he wrote poetry, essays, and an autobiography, Adamov is most famous as a playwright. In the early part of his writing career, he was associated with Surrealism and Absurdism. His plays, written in French, focused on the loneliness and isolation of all humans, on the limited ability of individuals to make meaningful connections with others, and on the inevitable and meaningless nature of death. His most famous play from this period of his life is Le pingpong (1955; translated as Ping-Pong in 1959). After the mid-1950s, Adamov rejected Absurdism and began writing plays that were more realistic, more optimistic, and more concerned with individuals in social and political contexts. As he revealed in his autobiographical writings, he was plagued by guilt and neuroses all his life. He drank heavily and towards the end of his life his mental and physical health failed to the point where he could no longer work. He died March 16, 1970, from an overdose of barbiturates.
Edward Albee (1928–)
Edward Albee was born on March 12, 1928, in Virginia, to unknown parents who gave him up for adoption shortly after his birth. His adoptive father was Reed Albee, who owned part of the Keith- Albee theater circuit, and his adoptive mother was the former Frances Cotter. Albee was raised in a wealthy home in Larchmont, New York, with his parents and his grandmother. He made frequent trips to the city to attend the theater during his childhood, and his parents often hosted a variety of theater people in their home. Albee attended Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1946-47, but did not earn a degree. He wrote poetry in the early part of his career, but with little success. He turned to drama and in 1958 published his one-act play The Zoo Story, which premiered the following year in Berlin and shortly thereafter in New York. In 1959, Albee wrote The Sandbox and in 1961, The American Dream, both of which opened in New York during 1960-61. Although Albee has written many more plays, these first three are the ones critics generally associate with the Theatre of the Absurd. All three are spare, single-act dramas featuring few characters and are concerned with the isolation of the individual and the artificial nature of American values. Albee’s dramas have received numerous awards, among them three Pulitzer Prizes: in 1967 for A Delicate Balance, in 1975 for Seascape, and in 1994 for Three Tall Women.
Fernando Arrabal (1932–)
Fernando Arrabal was born in Melilla, Morocco, on August 11, 1932, to Fernando and Carmen Teran Arrabal Ruiz. As a child, Arrabal lived in Spain in the early days of the reign of Francisco Franco, the fascist dictator. He was educated at the University of Madrid, and in 1958 he married a professor, Luce Moreau; the couple had two children. In 1967, Arrabal was imprisoned in Spain for his political views. His release was accomplished through the efforts of P.E.N., an international organization of writers. Although Arrabal’s work was strongly influenced by Surrealism and Absurdism, the designation with which he preferred to describe his drama was “Theatre of Panic.” His work has a nightmarish quality involving insanity, brutal violence, and sadistic sexuality. He is noted for creating gentle, child-like characters who are paradoxically responsible for the most unspeakable acts of brutality and degradation.
Samuel Beckett (1906–1989)
Nobel Prize winner Samuel Beckett was born in Foxrock, Dublin, Ireland, on April 13, 1906, to William Frank Beckett, a surveyor, and Mary Jones Roe Beckett, a nurse. He attended a Protestant public school and earned a bachelor of arts degree from Trinity College in 1927 and a masters of arts degree in 1931. Although Beckett taught for a short time, he hated the teaching profession and soon resigned his position. He began traveling in Europe and eventually settled in Paris in 1937. Beckett did most of his writing in French; his work included poetry, critical essays, and novels. However, he is perhaps most famous for his dramas, particularly his masterpiece Waiting for Godot (1954), consid- ered by many critics the defining work of Absurdism. The two-act play presents two men who engage in apparently pointless conversation while waiting by the side of the road for Godot, who fails to appear on two successive evenings. It is a play in which virtually nothing happens. The same could be said of Beckett’s 1957 play Endgame, considered by some critics an even bleaker view of human existence than Waiting for Godot. Beckett continued to write plays, novels, and other prose works into his eighties; he died in Paris on December 22, 1989, of respiratory failure.
Jean Genet (1910–1986)
Jean Genet was born in Paris on December 19, 1910, to an unknown father and a mother who immediately abandoned him. His early years were spent in an orphanage, and he was later turned over to a foster family, who accused him of stealing from them. He spent some time in a reformatory for adolescents from which he escaped; he then joined the French Foreign Legion, from which he deserted. He wandered around Europe for the next twenty years, supporting himself through thievery and prostitution. Genet began writing in prison, where he was serving a life sentence. His supporters in the literary world were eventually able to secure a presidential pardon in 1948, after which Genet devoted himself to his writing, to the arts, and to political activism. He was an admirer of the Black Panther Party and soon became a cult figure, in part because of Jean-Paul Sartre’s essay which characterized Genet as a saint and a martyr. Genet’s first writing consisted of poetry, novels, and a fictionalized autobiography. In 1947, while still in prison, he wrote his first play, The Maids (1947), and after his release he continued writing dramas, many of which became major productions. His most productive and successful period as a playwright was the late 1950s and early 1960s. Beginning in 1970 Genet lived in the Middle East among the members of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), whose cause he supported. He died in Paris on April 15, 1986, from throat cancer, and his memoirs offering an account of his years with the PLO were published later that year.
Václav Havel (1936–)
Václav Havel, playwright, political dissident, and current president of the Czech Republic, was born in Prague on October 5, 1936, to Václav M. and Bozena Vavreckova Havel. He was educated at a technical school and at Prague’s Academy of Art and served in the Czech Army in 1957-59. Throughout the 1960s, Havel worked with theater groups in Czechoslovakia, serving in various capacities from \stagehand to playwright-in-residence. He gained success with his early plays, The Garden Party and The Memorandum, both of which deal with the dehumanizing effects of government bureaucracy. When the former Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968, Havel was imprisoned and his plays were banned. But his international reputation grew as his works were successfully staged outside Czechoslovakia. Within his own country, he became well known as a spokesman for human rights. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, Havel saw his plays return to the Czech stage; he was elected president of Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic) that same year, an office he continued to hold as of 2002.
Eugène Ionesco (1912–1994)
Eugène Ionesco was born in Slatina, Romania, on November 26, 1912. His parents were Eugène, a lawyer, and Marie-Therese Icard Ionesco. He became a French citizen and spent most of his life in Paris. Ionesco was a painter and a playwright; a number of his plays are associated with the Theater of the Absurd, among them The Bald Soprano (1950), The Lesson (1951), and Rhinocéros (1959). Ionesco used black humor to criticize social and political institutions, insisting that the only possible response to an absurd world is laughter. Nonetheless, he claimed he was not an Absurdist, and he preferred the term “Theatre of Derision” to Theatre of the Absurd. One of his favorite targets for derision, especially in his early plays, was language itself, which he considered ineffective in helping individuals communicate and even dangerous and harmful when used to manipulate. Ionesco’s work enjoyed great success in the 1950s and 1960s, but his later plays were not as well received. He turned away from drama and began to concentrate on his painting and on publishing his nonfiction. Ionesco died March 28, 1994, in Paris.
Harold Pinter (1930–)
Harold Pinter was born October 10, 1930 in a working-class neighborhood in Hackney, London, England, to Hyman and Frances Pinter. His otherwise happy childhood was marred by the nightly terror of the London air raids during World War II. He attended the Hackney Downs Grammar School where he excelled in acting, writing, and sports. In 1948 he began studying at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, and over the next several years he worked as an actor with a variety of repertory companies. In 1957, his first play, The Room, was produced in Bristol, England; it was followed by The Birthday Party (1958), The Dumbwaiter (1959), and numerous other plays, radio and television dramas, and screenplays. Pinter is considered one of the most important playwrights of the post-World War II generation, and his plays have enjoyed success with both audiences and critics.
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