Themes and Meanings

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Tonight We Improvise is an essay on theater; its most obvious theme is the relative importance of actors and director, action and spectacle, in the making of a play. Though dedicated to director Max Reinhardt, in the pageantry, “scenic creations,” and lighting effects of Doctor Hinkfuss, the play satirizes the Reinhardt-like director who lets technical theater control the script. In the scenes of the father’s death and Mommina’s imprisonment and suffering, the actors show that a drama can be made with only “two boards and a passion.” Still, the actors’ desire to stick closer to the scenario and to have written dialogue indicates the importance of the playwright’s conception and poetry. Hinkfuss’s reentry at the end of the play recognizes the value to a theatrical production of both the physical staging and an organizing presence.

The more important art theme, however, is that of the paradox of art: Life’s movement finally results in the fixity of death, but art’s immutable form lives eternally. Through improvisation, Doctor Hinkfuss tries to escape in temporal theater the “crystallization” of the playwright’s literary art.

A broader theme is the paradox of being and seeming; this contrast between appearance and reality is best shown in the Sicilian story that the actors dramatize (although their moving in and out of character and in and out of the audience beautifully illustrates the philosophical concept...

(The entire section is 537 words.)