Tuesday, June 11, 2013

More on “Episode in the life of an Author”...

“Episode in the life of an Author” as an Absurdist Farce:

The theatre of the Absurd is an experimental theatrical style which came into prominence after World War II. The term ‘Absurd’ as applied to this moment carries the sense given to it by the thinkers. All these writers feel that man is “Out of Harmony” and man always finds himself in exile in a meaningless universe. The term ‘Absurd’ is also applied to the modern sense of human purposelessness in the universe without meaning or value.

The “Theatre of the Absurd” is a term coined by Hungarian-born critic Martin Esslin, who made it the title of his 1962 book on the subject. The term refers to a particular type of play which first became popular during the 1950s and 1960s and which presented on stage the philosophy articulated by French philosopher Albert Camus in his 1942 essay, The Myth of Sisyphus, in which he defines the human condition as basically meaningless.

One of the most important aspects of absurd drama is its distrust of language as a means of communication. Language, it seems to say, has become nothing but a vehicle for conventionalized, stereotyped, meaningless exchanges.

The Theatre of the Absurd constituted first and foremost an onslaught on language, showing it as a very unreliable and insufficient tool of communication. Absurd drama uses conventionalized speech, clichés, slogans and technical jargon, which it distorts, parodies and breaks down. By ridiculing conventionalized and stereotyped speech patterns, the Theatre of the Absurd tries to make people aware of the possibility of going beyond everyday speech conventions and communicating more authentically.”

Episode in the life of an Author is an excellent example of Jean Anouilh’s individualistic style that is eminently entertaining and irresistibly theatrical in form. It is humorous in its absurdity and its challenges the traditional notions of plot, character development and resolution of conflict. It has characters who enter, leave and enter again as they seek order in their lives from the art of author. They seem dependent on him to rescue them from the turmoil of their lives. Some are green with envy of the earlier characters which the author created because they live in a play which is ordered. In this sense, they want him to write stories of their lives and, indeed, the play can be seen as the struggle an author goes through as a piece is written. It is as absurd drama. This play  is a typical example of a ‘Farce’, a sub genre of the 'Theatre of the Absurd'. The theatre of absurd propagates the philosophy of life being an absurd phenomenon and ‘Farce’ is a low grade comedy mainly aiming for creating scenes of laughter by creating humorous scenes and wits. Overall such play does not have any sequence of events or logical order of happenings. To get a more clear picture of whether the play is a farce or not and whether it belongs to the Theatre of Absurd or not we have to review the important features of absurd drama. Following are the main features of absurd drama:
ü  It has unusual plot, theme, dialogues and actions which makes it different from other traditional plays.
ü  The events, actions are illogical, senseless, often useless, confusing, absurd and totally beyond the understanding of the common audience.
ü  Often situations are funny absurd and often there is a lack of sequence of events
ü  The characters are often caught in a chaotic situation and find it very difficult to understand its place in the universe. They are often confused and under lots of meaningless pressures and tensions.
ü  Often the inadequacy of language for communication is also exposed and it is shown that language is an unreliable and insufficient tool of communication.
We find all the above mentioned features are prominently present and making the main construct of the drama. Thus we are safe to say that the play is a very suitable example of ‘Farce’ and it belongs to the theatre of absurd.

Unconventional plot, theme & dialogues:

The play follows unconventional plot structures, theme and dialogues. Neither the scenes nor the time is put properly in the play. Conventional norms have been forgone to purposefully comment on the purposelessness and the meaninglessness of human existence. 

The events in this play are not logically connected to each other, and to an average audience, meaningless.

ü  The arrangement and the timing of events are haphazard. For instance Ardele comes into the scene irregularly at her own discretion and we do not know whether she is present in the house at other times when the author in engaged with other characters. Her irregular interruptions make no sense at all.

ü  The interview is cut short several times with interventions from other characters but when they continue again they begin as if they have progressed a lot actually when nothing has been achieved.

ü  The phone calls especially Gustave’s, consume a significant amount of time. The anecdotes he relates to the author has no relevancy to the author, he seems least bothered about what Gustave is saying. Nonetheless from the other end we have Gustave putting his heart and soul in explaining everything he has on his table.

ü  The maid’s pregnancy is one that is very difficult to understand.

The actions of the characters are senseless, useless and absurd.

ü  The author is bewildered, troubled, and strangely threatened by a large number of visitors who each bring a bag of problems to him.. He has no control over what is happening in his life or his house. The final scene where he is shouting for everyone to be calm, while he himself is losing control shows him as a true absurd protagonist.

ü  The arrival of the Plumbers and the manner they check the Leak by feeling the wall. They are not being able to find the actual leakage and when they say they found it, it was too late to be mend.

Distrust of language as a means of communication;

One of the most important aspects of absurd drama is its distrust of language as a means of communication. Language, it seems to say, has become nothing but a vehicle for conventionalized, stereotyped, meaningless exchanges. Language in Episode in the Life an Author too is shown as an unreliable and insufficient tool of communication. The broken dialogues and conversation between Ardele and the unknown woman (Madame pripon Minet), the interview between Madam Bessarabo and the Author, the telephonic conversation between the mother and Madame pripon Minet for a flat (both in need of one) are some examples of this type of use of language. In this way, conventional speech seems to act as a barrier between the characters rather than serve as a means of communication.

Plot Summary of the Play:

The author and his wife Ardele are having a furious argument at the beginning of the play. They appear in dressing gowns early in the morning in the author’s study. The entire play is set in the author’s study. Everybody comes to the author with a problem, expecting him to do something about it. From the beginning till the end, we see the author in his dressing gown and he spends the entire time in his study.

The author and his wife Ardele have been married for twelve years. They seem to be arguing about a letter that the author came across in the wife’s closet. The letter was addressed as “My own love” and the author accuses his wife of having an affair. The author presumes that the letter must be written by a man because the letter seems to address from a masculine perspective. She accuses the husband of rummaging through her drawers and her cupboards, and humiliating her. Ardele tells her husband that she wants to go back to her mother; the author reminds her that her mother died in 1922. Ardele accuses him of making her miserable by reminding of her mother’s death. She even tells him that she will go and live with her illiterate sister. She tells him that he must be happy to get rid of her, so that he can go and be unfaithful to her. Slowly, Ardele twists the situation to her advantage and accuses him of waiting for an opportunity to have an affair.

The first visitor to the house is Madame Bessarabo, who has come from Rumania. She is a journalist and is accompanied by a photographer. She has come to interview the author about his play La Marguerite and his opinion of love. She assures him that she will be true to his words and will not betray him. La Marguerite was staged in Rumania and had three successful shows. The press and the people were in unanimous agreement that it was a great play. However, the press and the people also felt that the play was bit hard and that is why she wants to know what the author thought of love. The author tells her that the title of the play is ambiguous.

The second visitors are the two plumbers. They have come to check the leak and repair the leak in the house. They inform the author that they will check in the attic first and move down. After sometime, the maid comes in to inform the author that the plumbers would like to cut off the water supply.

The caller is a woman, who calls over the phone. She has dialed the number Jasmine one two one two, and seems to be looking for her ex-husband, Leon. She asks the author if he is Leon. The author replies that he is not. The woman wants to talk to her husband regarding a flat. She wants him to look for a flat for her because she will have to vacate her old place. The woman again calls the author the second time and enquires why her husband is not on the line.

There is another caller and he is the author’s friend Gustave. He is a writer as well. It seems Gustave is having difficulty coming up with an appropriate ending for his play. His play is about a woman with the boas, a beautiful woman who falls in love with a man in a train. It seems Paul Zed, a producer has bought his play and wants to make it into a movie. Liliane Tresor had agreed to play the part of a beautiful woman. On second thought, the actress had refused because she does not want to die in the end. Moreover, the producer had asked him to change the ending and make it into a happy ending. The friend is frustrated and says that since he is the writer he can do what he likes with it. He says, “Is life supposed to be a picnic?” The author is busy with the interview but the friend expects him to solve his problem.

There is another visitor and she is the author’s mother. The mother also appears bearing her problem and expects her son to solve her problem. There is a bit of confrontation between the mother and the son. The mother wants the author to look for a flat for her, since she may have to give up her old flat in case she loses the lawsuit. The author makes his mother sit down and places a paper in her hands, and tells her that he has got lot of things to do.

The author again talks to Madame B. He states that he believes in Love. Madame B is happy and immediately wants to send a cable to Rumania. The two plumbers enter the room and check for any leak in the house. They move about the room in silence and leave through another door without speaking a word. The author states that man is alone in the world.

The author’s friend Gustave calls again. Gustave tells the author about the new development with his play. It seems Liliane Tresor; the actress has agreed to die of consumption and not of any other disease. But the objection has come from the producer now. The producer does not want the actress to die; instead he wants the actress to join a convent and become a nun in the end. The producer thinks that death would be a depressing ending. The author again tells his friend that he is busy and occupied and to call him later.

The next visitor is La Surette. He is a tramp and an ex-soldier. Just a week ago, the author had given him seven thousand francs. Now he has come with another demand. He wants a pair of boots, and money to pay for the gas company. We are also made known that during the war; La Surette had helped the author. He had lent his bayonet to the author in time for the parade as the author had misplaced his. Therefore, the author was saved from being court martialled. On this small favour that La Surette had done to the author, he wants many more favors from the author. The author refuses to give any more money to him, but on second thought helps him.

The woman calls again for the third time. Ardele appears again to ask the author who will look after the cats when she’s gone. She has changed her clothes into and outdoor one and is wearing an outrageous hat. She accuses the author of being heartless because he says that the cats will be looked after by the maid. She tells him that she is leaving and that the cats are miaowing because she is leaving.

There is another visitor to the author’s house. It is the housing inspector. He has come to check on the author. The interview is still continuing when they are disturbed by the housing inspector. The housing inspector is wearing black dress and informs the author that he has a requisition order for surplus accommodation. The housing inspector keeps taking notes. He asks Madame B, if she is a family. She says no. The housing inspector writes “Premises occupied by foreign émigrés”. He notices the photographer also and enquires if the photographer is also one of the families. He furiously takes notes. After that he declares that the author will get tenant in his house, brigadier with eight children. Ardele goes near the housing inspector and informs him that she is leaving and he can send in some other families as well.

At that moment the mother interrupts. She has come across an advertisement about a flat and asks the author’s opinion regarding the flat. When the housing inspector hears this, he again takes notes. The author tells his mother to keep quiet. At that moment, La Surette interjects by saying that gas can wait but he needs the boots immediately.

The housing inspector interrogates the author about the first floor, second floor and the third floor.

The author finishes telling the inspector that there is no third floor. At that moment, the plumbers come bounding in and tells that the leak is in the two empty rooms on the third floor, and that it runs rights across some more rooms and ends in a big room with toy soldiers. The inspector is excited and he goes up the stairs to check. The author is dismayed when the inspector goes up the staircase.

La Surette again intervenes and tells the author how he had helped the author during the war. The author hurls his boots to La Surette. La Surette immediately puts on the boots and talks about dignity.

The mother again bugs him about the flat. Ardele accuses the author of having an affair and demands to know the name of the woman. The author is confounded. He has no idea what his wife is talking about. She accuses her husband of looking for an excuse to have an affair. She tells him “why should you choose today to discover I’m deceiving you unless you’re deceiving me?” The author holds her arms and tells her to keep calm.
She again shouts at him saying he is physically molesting her.
La Surette again pokes his head through the door and asks the author what the author has decided about the gas.

The author tells everybody to keep calm. At that moment, the woman calls again. The author tells her that he is Leon and why shouldn’t he be Leon. The woman tells him that she needs to look for a flat. Immediately he tells his mother to talk to the woman about the flat. The mother talks to this woman on the phone. It is quite comical to see the two women talking. Both of them have no idea and there is so much of confusion. Each one thinks that the other one has a flat. The mother is excited with the prospect of finding a flat and flies out of the door.

When one visitor leaves the house, another comes in by the name of Gontran. Gontran is a giant of a man. He has come with some problems. It seems he left his wife Lucienne three months ago for another woman. But now he is agitated because when he calls up his wife, there is no response from his wife. He doubts that his wife must be having an affair. It is quite comical see this giant man, crying for his wife. He says “She’s deceiving me, old man; she’s been deceiving me ever since I left her!” .He begins to sob like a child and faints in the author’s arm.

Meanwhile, we see Ardele creating havoc with the vases in the house. She goes on a rampage, breaks down the vases and pulls down pictures and laughs hysterically.
The author yells on the top of his voice saying “let’s be calm”.

His friend dials again and hangs up the phone in anger because the author tells him to call again later. He has called again to tell the author about the brilliant ending he came up with.

As the author hangs up the phone, Ardele comes accusing him. She accuses him if he was talking to his girlfriend. When the author goes into the kitchen, she calls up the telephone operator and enquires about the last caller. The operator gives the woman’s number. Here is another comical scene. We hear Ardele talking to this unknown woman and accusing her of trying to steal her husband. The woman in turn accuses Ardele of trying to steal her husband. They go on accusing each other.

While the two women are fighting over the phone, we see the author dragging La Surette by the collar. The author finds La Surette’s behavior with the maid disgusting. He shouts at the maid to stop her crying. In the play, the maid is seen crying from the beginning till the end. Now we know the reason for her crying. La Surette has not only comforted, but has made the maid pregnant, and that is why the maid has been crying the whole time. The author tries to calm down and tells everybody to keep calm.

At that moment Madame B reappears with her photographer. They were in another room the whole time. When she sees the author in a state she thinks that the author has gone mad. Thus instructs her photographer to take his picture. The author shouts at her to leave. But she refuses to do so, instead takes some more of the author’s picture.

This inspector reappears and tells that the author has twelve rooms to spare. He tells the author that he will install one brigadier and two new recruits in the author’s house. On top of that some old age pensioners will also be put in the author’s house. The author keeps chanting “I am quite calm. Quite calm! I am becoming more and more calm” Madame Bessarabo takes some more of the Author’s picture.

The plumbers reappear and shout that everybody has to take cover and take care of oneself. They say that they have found the leak, but something has gone wrong and there is nothing they can do about it.

Water starts falling from the ceiling in a deluge. Everybody runs around in a panic. There is again another caller, and it is the friend. He starts telling the author about the ending of his play.

Meanwhile Ardele enters the room carrying a pistol in her hand and starts shooting blindly. The author has to take cover not only from the water cascading from the ceiling, but also from his wife’s bullet and at the same time trying to protect Gontran’s body. The author interrupts by saying that he prefers a happy ending. The friend gets angry and shouts at the author saying that a lot of water will flow under the bridge before her calls the author again. Ardele fires her last bullet and screams.

She is worried that she might have shot her husband. She falls into her husband’s arms and asks him if he is hurt and faints in her husband’s arms. The woman calls again. The play ends when the ceiling crashes onto the floor.

Some funny scenes in the play:
ü  the opening scene funny argument between the Author and his wife Ardele over a trivial issue of letter in which the wife threatens to leave and the author laughs nastily.
ü  Madam Bessarabo talking with the Author flatteringly and appearing as if she likes everything that the Author says or does.
ü  Ardele appearance on the stage in a bathing robe and charging the Author for intentionally cutting off the water supply without verifying the fact.
ü  The woman calling repeatedly over phone and claiming that the Author was her first husband, jasmine one two one two.
ü  Author’s mother and the woman talking over phone and discussing about the apartment (both in need of one).
ü  Ardele talking angrily with the woman over phone thinking that she was Author’r girlfriend.
ü  Ardele’s seriousness, anger and frustration while she was talking with the Author about the cat.
ü  The Housing Inspector visiting and noting everything that he heard without checking out the relevance.
ü  The scene when the Author is having argument with La Surette.
ü  The scene when Gontran and Ardele argue about Lea.
ü  Gontran sobbing like a child and fainting in the arms of the Author.
ü  Plumbers working stupidly and spoiling the whole thing rather than repairing the leak.

ü  The scene of Ardele firing at the Author blindly and the Author frantically dozing the bullet and the water talking over the phone and trying to save Gontran too.