Eugene IONESCO (1909-1994) - Romanian Francophone Playwright
"We haven't the time to take our time. "
"Look at yourself with one eye, listen to yourself with the other."
As a Romanian Francophone playwright Ionesco may have relatively little claim of belonging to the British or Irish Literary landscape. Yet the fact that he helped popularize absurdist theater during the 1950s with such works as The Chairs, The Bald Soprano and Rhinoceros (later filmed) caused a dispute known as the "London Controversy' . Influenced by Pirandello, he opposed both theatrical and social conventions with his often wacky plots and characters marked a turning in the taste of the British public. Although Ionesco's reputation as a serious dramatist began to flourish in the mid-1950s, in 1958 he was criticized by one of his early champions, the British critic Kenneth Tynan, for producing “nonsense theater” and not living up to the social role expected of a writer. The charge leveled at Ionesco was that his work was politically indifferent and therefore irrelevant. The “London Controversy,” as it was called, had Ionesco defending himself against promoting in his theater the ill-conceived “solutions” to social and political questions advocated by left-wing and right-wing thinkers alike. But many commentators, including the director Orson Welles, continued to feel that Ionesco was shunning his appropriate function by not engaging in political debate in his work. It seems that Ionesco was affected by this criticism, because beginning in the late 1950s he began to produce work that seemed to strive for political relevance. In his cycle of plays The Killers, Rhinoceros, Exit the King, and A Stroll in the Air, in which appear his “Everyman” Bérenger, a brave and idealistic man who has heroic qualities but always loses, Ionesco overtly criticizes totalitarianism and presents deeper analyses of the complexity of human aspirations than in his earlier works. His retelling of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, written in 1973, is also a study of political tyranny.
His play the Rhinoceros was performed from a fresh translation at the Royal Court Theatre in 2007 and his plays figure in the Penguin Classics series.