Mrożek, Sławomir 1930–
Mrożek is a talented Polish playwright, novelist, and short story writer currently living in Italy whose work, although successful in many other countries, is not widely known in the United States. He writes in the Theater of the Absurd tradition about life behind the Iron Curtain. Tango is his best known play. (See also CLC, Vol. 3, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 13-16, rev. ed.)
Put in very simple terms, the problem [facing the contemporary writer] involves the creation of an artistic language or structure that could describe the physical as well as the metaphysical anguish of man in post-atomic society. Complicated enough under ordinary circumstances, artistic communication becomes even more complex when subjected to ideological censorship…. [The] ruthless visual metaphors of contemporary absurdist drama have created an allegorical structure that expresses the agony of human guinea pigs better than could be achieved by ordinary verbal language…. The language of absurd visual images seems ideally suited for the construction of socialist allegories … for, as Martin Esslin has observed, absurd images enable East European playwrights to communicate their views on man and the totalitarian state without arousing the wrath of the censor. (p. 44)
[It] is to Poland that one must turn for the earliest—and the most widespread—flowering of East European drama that transcends the limitations of socialist realism…. [Sławomir Mrożek's] Tango, though much more "realistic" and rational than the dramas of Witkacy, Gombrowicz, or Różewicz, is the most widely known post-war Polish play in the idiom of the absurd….
The couple in Mrożek's play have rebelled against Victorian social and moral conventions…. Mrożek's stage directions for Act I create a picture of chaotic freedom, suggesting a triumphant overthrow of the conventions of a time when it took great courage to dance the tango. Eleanor's and Stomil's son Arthur, however, endeavors to reinstate the old social and moral codes by ending what his granduncle calls fifty years of "jokes."… Though Mrożek has not specified the time of the action of his play, it is clearly contemporary with the date...
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Slaughterhouse is a satire on the destruction of artistic life—in this case music—in contemporary civilization. Musicians are enjoined, virtually compelled, to abandon their art for butchery! A violinist who cannot bring himself to do so commits suicide. (There is something of Ionesco's Rhinoceros in the notion.) (p. 93)
Harold Clurman, in The Nation (copyright 1975 The Nation Associates), August 2, 1975.
I confess to a mild prejudice against a play whose only two characters are called AA and XX. Such stuff tends to make me go ZZ. But after a longish, slowish start Mrożek's Emigrés turns out to be neither abstract nor boring…. [AA is a] political refugee, and XX … is the sort of migrant wage-slave who may be found in many of the richer European nations, building tower blocks or digging sewers. Their somewhat unlikely cohabitation begins with bickering about food and rent, becomes a New Year's booze-up, and ends with the discussion about freedom and captivity that, given Mrożek's own status as an emigré from Poland, we should have expected all along. Both men, it emerges, feel more trapped in the liberal West than by any tyranny of secret police and one-party bureaucrats: the writer can't write, the labourer misses his family. A second and perhaps less persuasive conclusion is that it is bovine, lumpen XX who retains the more independence of soul in exile, and clever, contemptuous AA who is doomed to envy him from his intellectual icebox. At this point one might be inclined to accuse Mrożek of sentimentality, even self-pity; but there's a toughness, an unaffected humanity … that sweeps away seven-eighths of the objection. (p. 59)
Benedict Nightingale, in New Stateman (© 1976 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), July 9, 1976.