Themes and Meanings

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Since drama is a living, syncretic art, which unites the expressive capabilities of the word, visual gesture, tempo, and even architecture, any summary of a play is doomed to be at best incomplete, at worst misleading. The problem is especially apparent when one turns to the dramas of Tadeusz Kantor. This dramatist, who was also a noted avant-garde painter, constructed his plays as visual canvases, in which sparsity of language and suggestive visual theatrics combine in a powerful, distilled alloy to effect the message the playwright wished to convey to his audience. A summary of a play by Tadeusz Kantor is about as effective as a verbal summary of a Flemish painting. Nevertheless, such a summary may provide insight into the philosophical underpinnings of Kantor’s drama.

Critics often refer to Kantor’s plays as “séances,” following the subtitle of his first play, Umara klasa (pr. 1975; The Dead Class, 1979). Deceased personages populate Kantor’s stage. Their constant shuffling back and forth between their shadowy existence and the life-experience of the audience (the only “live” people in the theater, according to Kantor) is indicative of the playwright’s distinctive conception of drama. In his plays, Kantor sought to evoke the interpenetration of the world of the living and the world of the dead. In the disjointed action of Kantor’s theater, there is a curious, constant ebb and flow from one world into the other. For...

(The entire section is 551 words.)