George S. Kaufman

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Can The Still Alarm be classified as realist, romantic, or absurd?

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George Kaufman's The Still Alarm is quite representative of the absurd. However, the play is not meant to be categorized as "theater of the absurd" because it does have a palpable beginning, middle and end. It is also not as disparate as other absurdist plays, nor does it use existentialism as an essential theme. However, it is safer to categorize The Still Alarm as a satire that has a lot of absurd in it, particularly, in the themes and in the style of the dynamics that take place among the characters.

The first indications of the unique nature of this play appear in the stage directions, where Kaufman is quite specific as to how the actors have to perform the lines of the play

Vital note: ...every line must be read as though it were an invitation to a cup of tea. If this direction is disregarded, the play has no point at all.

Since Kaufman wants the play to be acted like an "English drawing-room play", it is expected that the traits of such a play would be present in The Still Alarm. Therefore the play will include, as its salient features, the act of conversation, witty comments, interactions over tea, and the casual observations that are often included in this genre

Although all the elements are included into The Still Alarm, Kaufman does not use the "drawing-room" setting that the audience expects for the style of dialogue that he presents. This is because, to the shock of the audience, the play takes place inside the room of a hotel which is, at the time of the action, literally burning down to the ground.

Then comes the really absurd content of the play. As the fire gets closer and closer to Ed and Bob, the main characters, they still continue their normal conversation, and voicing their daily preoccupations, as usual. Afterwards, in come the firefighters to politely introduce themselves and, as they go about in the room, they also end up playing the violin. Ironically, the song to be played by the second fireman (complete with a musician's poise and oblivious to the fire) is "Keep the Home Fires Burning". This fact, of course, adds to the dark comedic quality of this otherwise strange play. 

Therefore, the comedic satire of the play aims to poke at the overly "polite" English society that, for the sake of protocol, is willing to overlook the things that really matter. However realistic this particular tenet may be, the presentation of it in the play is quite absurd and sarcastic. This is what renders this play more absurd than realistic, or romantic. 

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