Arthur Adamov 1908–1970
Russian-born French dramatist, essayist, editor, and translator.
Adamov was an important figure in the French theater of his time. Though his plays eventually moved away from the Theater of the Absurd, Adamov, along with Samuel Beckett and Eugene Ionesco, originally helped shape this idiom on the stage. Adamov also contributed to the theater the importance of visual impact in expressing a play's meaning. He treated stage space as a visible representation of meaning and physical movement on stage as a language to communicate meaning to the audience. Adamov's dramas, therefore, cannot be easily read and understood; they must be seen.
Three periods are generally observed in Adamov's career but he consistently strove to convey his view of the intensity of human isolation and of the loss of significant human communication. He did so by developing only slight plots and by presenting unrealistic characters who often acted like machines and spoke in a mechanical language laden with clichés. These characters are portrayed as victims of forces beyond their control, driven to withdrawal and eventually, to suicide.
In the early plays, during his "absurdist" period, Adamov is concerned with universal situations that are removed from any specific realistic setting. His characters are nearly symbolic and his plays take place in a dream world, often a nightmare. These plays are said to have arisen from the dramatist's personal fears and obsessions. Le Professeur Taranne (Professor Tarrane) is singled out as the best work of this period. In his middle plays, during his "Brechtian" period, Adamov turned to plays of social realism set in the contemporary world, evidencing a conscience outraged by the social injustices of modern political and socio-economic systems. Critics have noted in these dramas an unusually strident tone, which often detracts from their effect. Le Ping-Pong (Ping Pong), called Adamov's masterpiece, is from this phase. In his final period, Adamov attempted to blend the work of his previous two phases. These plays show his growing disillusionment with social action as an effective way to change social systems and his lack of faith in the individual's ability to create personally meaningful values. Adamov's last play, Si l'été revenait (If Summer Should Return), is seen as a statement of his ultimate despair.
(See also CLC, Vol. 4; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 17-20, Vols. 25-28, rev. ed. [obituary]; and Contemporary Authors Permanent Series, Vols. 1-2.)