icon caret-left icon caret-right instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads question-circle facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle

Writing Right: The Blog

WRITING FOR THE ABSURD

When I was a kid of 17 or so, I wrote a satirical stage play and tried to find a publisher/producer for it. When that failed, I decided I could produce it myself. (How hard could it be?) I happened to know a man at Follett Publishing in New York. Which is to say, I knew of him from some book rejection slips he'd sent me over the years. So, on a lark and desperate for notoriety, I gave him a call to tell him what I had in mind. I explained the plot, told him about the characters, and said I was looking to produce the script and had heard he might be interested in backing an upcoming young playwright.

 

To my surprise, he said, "Sure. I'd like to hear more. When can we get together to talk?"

 

Naturally, since I lived in Chicago and he lived in New York, I had to do some fancy shuffling before the opportunity arose for me to go knocking on his door. I had by then scraped together a few bucks, and I prevailed upon a couple of friends to kick in a few more for a third-class train ticket, and I called Louis Zara and told him of my plans.

 

He sounded delighted and suggested he pick me up at the airport and take me to his home for dinner. I sounded delighted and replied, "Sure. Great. Except I don't like to fly, so I'll be taking the train."

 

"Even better," he said. "I'll see you at Penn Station when you get in."

 

Long story short. He picked me up and drove me to his home in the suburbs where I met a distinguished grande dame of the Broadway theater whom he'd been thoughtful enough to invite as my dinner companion. Only propriety at the time and my overall ignorance of the theater in general and grande dames in particular prevent me from saying who. So, after a delightful dinner of roast duck with broiled red potatoes and carrots followed by baked Alaska, we chatted and laughed and drank lots of wine (I looked older than my age and professed to being twenty-four), and then he drove me to my hotel. He promised to give the script a read that very night.

 

He did. In the morning, he called to say he was sorry, but he wasn't really into the "theater of the absurd." I was shocked. I'd never heard the phrase before and didn't know what to make of it. I mistook his comment as a put-down and, with my tail tucked firmly between my legs, thanked him for his consideration as I packed my things to prepare for the long, long trip home.

 

Later—months later if not more—I learned about the absurdist movement that had taken the theater by storm, and I saw how Zara could have taken my play for an example of its style. And, I must say, I felt a little better, knowing that he hadn't given me a right cross to the jaw after all and that he had apparently been serious: The play just wasn't his cup of tea.

 

That was my first and least satisfactory experience with absurdist writing. And possibly my last. Although I did have my curiosity piqued to the point of searching out various absurdist writers, including Franz Kafka, Jean-Paul Sartre, Samuel Beckett, Eugène Ionesco, Albert Camus, and Donald Barthelme--among the best. Kafka was a German-speaking Bohemian with whom I connected initially because of our joint ethnic heritage and, eventually, because of his mastery of written imagery. Influenced by Friedrich Nietzsche, Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Dickens, and others, Kafka wrote powerful short stories such as "The Judgment" (1912), "The Metamorphosis" (1915), "In the Penal Colony" (1919), and "The Trial" (1914 - 1915), which I consider his best due to its "mythic symbolism of a world gone berserk," as literary critic I. Edwards wrote in the New York Times last year. Who knew, back at the tender age of seventeen, that I was a practitioner of the absurd without even realizing it! And, do you know it actually felt good! I highly recommend every writer try it sometime.

 

Oh, and in case you're wondering, I never did get to produce that play I'd taken to New York or find anyone else willing to do so, although I did go on to write and produce another play and had a second produced off-off-Broadway (I think it was in Cleveland). Neither of them was Theater of the Absurd.

 

D. J. Herda is author of the new eBook series of writing advice, About Writing Right, available at Amazon and at fine booksellers everywhere.

Be the first to comment