The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Tango is set in the living room of the Stomil family. The room is in great disarray: There are piles of drapery everywhere; one of them is used as a bed by Ala. The stage is littered with remnants of the past, such as a faded wedding dress, a baby carriage, and objects dating back to different eras. There is even a coffin in an alcove.ek)}awomir Mro{zdot}ek{/I}}ek)}

As the play begins, Eugene, Eugenia, and Eddie are interrupted in a furtive game of cards by the arrival of Arthur. The young man, dressed neatly in contrast to the slovenly appearance of the others, upbraids his grandmother for disobeying his ban on card playing and makes her lie down on top of the coffin in the alcove. Arthur is a student who has returned home only to find that his mother is having an affair with Eddie and that the whole family has deteriorated into complete dissolution and inertia. He has made it his task to reform the family and to reinstitute order and moral standards in the Stomil household. Stomil, an avant-garde writer, and his wife, Eleanor, resist Arthur’s efforts, pointing out that it was their generation which overthrew all artistic and moral conventions and created a life of freedom for Arthur and his generation.

This very freedom, however, disturbs Arthur: He longs for “an orderly world,” a respectable professional career as a doctor, and a conventional marriage. He claims that his parents’ nonconformism has deprived him of the right of every young person to rebel against the norms of previous generations. He complains that this nonconformism into which his parents are pushing him “is only a new kind of conformism.” Therefore, in order to reassert his right to nonconformism, he will have to reestablish a set of rules and force his family to conform to them.

In act 2, Arthur enlists the help of Eugene for his plan and persuades Ala, his fiancé, that they...

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Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Tango was Mroek’s first full-length, three-act play. Unlike the shorter dramatic pieces of his earlier career, Tango makes little use of the formal devices of the Theater of the Absurd. Indeed, the play conforms fully to the conventions of the well-made play by adhering strictly to the unities of time, place, and action and by using a traditional structure of introduction, complication, and resolution. Another conventional dramatic device, absent from Mroek’s early plays, is the use of proper names for his characters; indeed, the name Stomil allows the audience direct associations to Poland. In spite of the specific names, Tango is not a psychological play in which the dramatic interest concentrates on the motivations of individual characters. The Stomils and the other denizens of their household are representative characters, quasi-allegorical figures that mirror contemporary European types. In this sense, Tango can be viewed as a modern morality play. Beyond the political allegory, there is the existential level: Arthur is a modern Everyman trying to come to grips with an essentially godless world.

Although Tango is Mroek’s most conventional play, elements of the modern anti-illusionist drama do appear. Most prominent of them is the coffin on which Arthur forces Eugenia to lie as a punishment for her violation of his house rules. It exemplifies Arthur’s attempt to bury the past, but even when Eugenia voluntarily climbs on the coffin and dies in the end, nothing is achieved. There is no rebirth after the burial. An additional device of the Theater of the Absurd is the experimental play which Stomil puts on at the end of act 2. To a degree it parallels the play-within-the-play from Hamlet, but it also demonstrates that, like the tearing down of all social and moral conventions by Stomil’s generation, the discarding of all theatrical conventions by the dramatists of the Theater of the Absurd has left a void.


(Great Characters in Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Gerould, Daniel. “Mroek Resisted.” In Slavic Drama: The Question of Innocence. Proceedings, edited by Andrew Donslov and Richard Sokoluski. Ottawa, Canada: Department of Modern Languages and Literature, 1991.

Gerould, Daniel, ed. Twentieth-Century Polish Avant-Garde Drama: Plays, Scenarios, Critical Documents. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1977.

Kalera, Jozef. “A Concise Guide to Mroek.” Theatre in Poland 3 (1990): 8-11.

Kloscowicz, Jan. Mroek. Translated by Christine Cankalski. Warsaw, Poland: Authors Agency and Czytelnik, 1980.

Kott, Jan. Theatre Notebook, 1947-1967. Translated by Bodesaw Taborski. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1968.

Miosz, Czesaw. The History of Polish Literature. New York: Macmillan, 1969.