The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The Transfiguration of Benno Blimpie is a memory play. The first scene shows the enormously heavy Benno eating alone, locked in a room in the dramatic present time. The other principal characters are revealed one at a time in tableaux. Benno declares to the audience that he is going to eat himself, and the stage is blacked out.

The second scene begins at a neglected city park, quickly moves to Benno’s lower-class Italian home, then returns to the park. Benno does not participate in these scenes but remains visible in a simultaneous setting; he and the other actors pretend that he is present to enact these scenes from his childhood. In the park the old man, Benno’s grandfather, berates Benno for crushing snails with his feet. At the house, Benno asks his mother for more ice cream—he has eaten seventeen cones—but is told that he is too fat to have more. Between these vignettes, Benno tells short stories about himself. He introduces his father, who plays out a football fantasy. Next, in the park, a girl demands ice cream from the old man, who leaves with Benno. The scene ends with Benno’s description of a dream in which he is locked in an oven that burns him when he moves, while people point at him through the oven door.

Scene 3, in the park, shows the old man following the barefoot girl who had asked for the ice cream. He warns her to be more careful walking alone in the park, but she pays no heed and asks him to join her under some shade trees. Benno recites, in a desperate passion, the names of the Great Italian painters, then shines his flashlight to show the old man kissing the girl’s feet while she moans.

The next scene shows Benno’s parents in the kitchen, squabbling over their meal. His mother begins a long diatribe against the family; when her husband retreats, hiding behind his racing form, she questions his virility and blames him for Benno’s monstrosity. Their argument grows more intense until Benno’s father slaps his wife, much to the chagrin of the intently watching Benno.

Scene 5 begins with the girl singing alone, while Benno watches from his stool. She then tells of a grotesque dream about eating a chicken. She freezes during a musical transition, and Benno begins a third person monologue about how he came to love painting. He concludes that no matter how beautiful his paintings might be, no matter how sensitive his responses to music, he knows that he is still a monster who will finally consume himself. The girl then resumes her story, describing her brother’s wet dream and her hope for more chicken to eat soon.

In scene 6, the girl and the grandfather are lying down together in the...

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Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The Transfiguration of Benno Blimpie uses the familiar devices of narration and flashback to create an aura of tragic inevitability. These traditional devices are augmented by Albert Innaurato’s striking use of Benno as a witness to scenes from his past in which the audience and the other characters must imagine his presence. This unusual technique provides a framework in which Benno’s objectification of himself (as food) seems to be predicted in the form of the play. Benno’s isolation (his weight a monument to his aloneness) is similarly emphasized by his motionless presence on the stool. Benno’s watchfulness encourages the audience to watch the other scenes with special care, forcing them to imagine his experience and project his eventual fate.

The fragmentation of the scenes, as well as the theatrical stylization of lighting and set effects, suggests a strong authorial presence that Benno’s “memory” cannot fully explain. Innaurato’s selection of themes, for example the use of painting, and his ability to create irony and suspense sometimes seems to exceed the possibilities of the hero-as-artist narrative device; Benno’s personal style is less subtle than Innaurato’s play.

Brevity is the work’s hidden strength. Benno is physically static, and much of the action is reported, yet the play is short enough that its progress remains harrowing. Of Innaurato’s published work only Urlicht (pr. 1971) is shorter, and it is merely a sketch. His other plays tend to spin out of control, especially when they contain elements of the grotesque. The Transfiguration of Benno Blimpie is short, but profound and unrelenting.


(Great Characters in Literature)

Sources for Further Study

DiGaetani, John Louis. “Albert Innaurato.” In Speaking on Stage: Interviews with Contemporary American Playwrights, edited by Philip C. Kolin. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1996.

Freedman, Samuel G. “Reshaping a Play to Reveal Its True Nature.” New York Times, February 24, 1985, sec. 2, p. 1.

Innaurato, Albert. Interview with John DiGaetani. Studies in American Drama, 1945-Present 2 (1987): 86-95.

Innaurato, Albert. Interview with Mark Katz. New York Arts Journal 10 (July/August, 1978): 7-9.

Lester, Elenore. “Innaurato: His Passion for Outcasts Is Finding a Place on Stage.” New York Times, May 29, 1977, sec. 2, p. 4.

McDaniel, Linda E. “Albert Innaurato.” In American Playwrights Since 1945: A Guide to Scholarship, Criticism, and Performance, edited by Philip C. Kolin. New York: Greenwood Press, 1989.

Wetzsteon, Ross. “Gay Theatre After Camp: From Ridicule to Revenge.” Village Voice 22 (April 18, 1977): 87.