Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Playwright Eugene Ionesco, 81 `Rhinoceros' and Other Works Embodied Theater of the Absurd

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Playwright Eugene Ionesco, 81 `Rhinoceros' and Other Works Embodied Theater of the Absurd

Article excerpt

Playwright Eugene Ionesco, whose absurdist masterpieces overcame initial ridicule to win worldwide popularity, died Monday (March 28, 1994) at his home in Paris. He was 81.

His family declined to give details about the cause of death.

His plays, including "Rhinoceros," "The Bald Soprano" and "The Lesson," turned theatrical conventions on their head, using farce to bolster Ionesco's observations about alienation in everyday life and the debasements of totalitarianism.

By the mid-1960s, Mr. Ionesco was the acknowledged master of the Theater of the Absurd, a term encompassing such writers as Samuel Beckett, Edward Albee and Harold Pinter.

Mr. Ionesco defined the term in an essay on Franz Kafka, saying: "Absurd is that which is devoid of purpose. . . . Cut off from his religious, metaphysical and transcendental roots, man is lost; all his actions become senseless, absurd, useless."

In "Rhinoceros," the protagonists try to cope with a world in which everyone else is mutating into beasts. In "The Bald Soprano," two married couples sit around exchanging tedious maxims such as, "The country is quieter than the city."

In "The Lesson," the Professor spends an hour verbally assaulting his pupil. After one performance, the leading actor had to flee from the theater through a back door while the outraged audience demanded refunds.

"It's not a certain society that seems ridiculous to me," Mr. Ionesco once wrote. "It's mankind."

Mr. Ionesco was born in Slatina, Romania, on Nov. 26, 1912, the son of a Romanian father and a French mother. Shortly afterward, the family moved to Paris.

By age 13, when the family returned to Romania, he had already written a play. He said he was inspired by the puppet shows in the Luxembourg Gardens near his home.

"I could stay there, entranced for whole days . . . spellbound by the sight of these puppets that talked, moved and clubbed each other," he wrote. "It was the spectacle of the world itself."

He finished high school in Romania and studied French at the University of Bucharest. He wrote poems and dabbled in literary criticism.

He became a high school French teacher, and in 1936 he married Rodica Burileano. They had one daughter, Annie-Marie, who lives in Paris.

In 1938, Mr. Ionesco obtained a grant to study in France and write a thesis on contemporary French poetry. He moved to Paris but never wrote a single line.

During World War II, he worked for a French publishing house.

"The Bald Soprano" (1950) was inspired by his experience learning English. …

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