Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Theatrics Again

At one point in War and Peace, Natasha goes to the theater, and for one reason or another (chiefly her own shifting affections), she can't concentrate on the play, so she looks at the rest of the theater-goers and otherwise focuses on the reality of the theater-itself as opposed to the pretend-reality on stage. It's a great fictional way to represent her inner turmoil, but as I suggested in an earlier post, it is similar to my own experience of theater. I often pull back from the suspension of disbelief and start looking at the ceiling or a fly on the curtain or whatever.

There is such a thing as theater of the absurd, which willfully disobeys longstanding conventions of theater, partly in order to dramatize the absurdity of existence, as perceived by the playwright. I suppose Waiting for Godot is a good example.

In another sense, all theater is absurd (and there's nothing wrong with that), or so I claim in this poem:


There’s no theater that’s not
theater of the absurd because
in every case humans sit

observing humans acting
like humans. Every human
in the whole theater-building

has a task, which both is
and is not what brought each
task’s corresponding human

to the building. The building
is a product of innumerable
tasks. So is the play. All tasks

are ultimately meaningless.
So is the play. The theater-
building is filled with pretending

humans watching other humans
pretend, and this is reality,
and this is play, and if God

doesn’t exist, then none of it
means anything ultimately,
and if God does exist, then

none of it means what it purports
to mean, and one additional absurd
thing is how ordered, dutiful,

polite, and amused we are as
we perform our tasks. We play
the game of As If as if it

weren’t a game, and that is
acting, and that’s absurd, and
that's quite a performance.

Copyright 2007 Hans Ostrom

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