Slawomir Mrozek Critical Essays

Mrozek, Slawomir

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Mrozek, Slawomir 1930–

Mrozek is a talented Polish playwright whose work, although successful in other countries, is not widely known in the United States. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 13-14.)

Mrozek's most ambitious play hitherto is Tango…. The impact of the Warsaw opening of Tango has been characterized as the most explosive event in the theatrical history of Poland for half a century.

Tango is a complex play. It has been described as a parody or paraphrase of Hamlet in that it shows a young man horrified by the behaviour of his parents, deeply ashamed by his mother's promiscuity and his father's complacency. It is also, clearly, a bitter attack by a young man on the previous generation which has plunged his country into war, occupation and devastation….

The tango here is the symbol of what the original impulse to revolt was about. For when the tango was a new and daring dance, the generation of Arthur's parents was fighting for their right to dance the tango. At the end of the road, when the revolt against traditional values has destroyed all values and nothing is left except naked power—Eddie's power, the power of the brainless mass—the tango is being danced, on the ruins of the civilized world.

The implications of this exercise in the dialectics of revolt are clear enough: the cultural revolt leading to the destruction of all values and thus to the attempt by intellectual idealists to restore these values; the realization on the part of the intellectuals that values, once destroyed, cannot be reconstituted and that thus only naked power remains; and finally, because the intellectuals are not ruthless enough to exercise naked power, its assumption by the Eddies of this world. It would be wrong to think that Tango has relevance only for the Communist sphere. The destruction of values, the invasion of the seats of power by vulgar mass man, can after all also be detected in the West. Tango is a play of far wider importance. It is brilliantly constructed, full of invention and extremely funny.

Martin Esslin, in his The Theatre of the Absurd (© 1961, 1968, 1969 by Martin Esslin; reprinted by permission of Doubleday & Company, Inc.), revised edition, Doubleday-Anchor, 1969, pp. 272-76.

Why is it that Mrozek's voice, especially in Tango, rings out through the Western world with a fresh and arresting sound? Surely it is not just his sharp, almost unerring ability to show things in a new perspective. I think the answer, at least in part, lies in his ability to fuse three currents of contemporary drama—East or West—into a single medium of expression: first, the artist's acute sense of disaster evoked by the historical events of this century; second, the sensitivity to the false values and stultifying effects of a variety of social systems and man's subsequent change from Pascal's "thinking reed" to a vegetating weed without conscience or consciousness; third, the desire to recreate forms of the pre-literary theater expressing inexplicable and indefinable fears and hopes. Perhaps the key to the differences in reception between Eastern Europe and Western countries lies in the different impact of these elements: Kafka's dreams have made him famous in the West and subversive in Eastern Europe; Beckett's laughter amidst the gloom has made him metaphysical in the West and political in the East; Pinter's and Havel's surface realism has made them realistic in the measure in which life in a given society has become a nightmare. If we recall Erich Heller's remark that the basic premise of all art is the fundamental correspondence between the impact of external experience on man and man's articulate answer, we must conclude that Mrozek was not only aware that this premise differs from East to West, but that—consciously or unconsciously—he made the best of it.

Marketa Goetz Stankiewicz, "Slawomir Mrozek: Two Forms of the Absurd," in Contemporary Literature (© 1971 by the Regents of the University of Wisconsin), Vol. 12, No. 2, Spring, 1971, pp. 188-203.

The trouble with these three "absurd" plays [Three Plays] is that they aren't absurd enough. Mrozek is obviously intrigued by the successes of Beckett, Pinter, Arrabal, and Ionesco, but can't quite find the existential handle. He tries to pair his characters à la Beckett (two businessmen in "Striptease" and two prophets in "The Prophets") but they only duplicate their own dramatic efforts. He tries Pinterian doors—we do not care if they open or not. He tries blood and panic—it's stage blood and staged panic. He tries normative dialogue in preposterous situations—they merely fail to mix stylistically. What Mrozek lacks are two essentials: dramatic genius and philosophical lucidity.

Virginia Quarterly Review, Vol. 49, No. 3 (Summer, 1973), p. cxii.