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An Evening on the Edge of Reason

Act Without Words

by Samuel Beckett

After Magritte

by Tom Stoppard

The Dumb Waiter

by Harold Pinter

About Reason in the Theatre

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About Gender

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About Magritte

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About Many Other Things

Theatre is hard to defend: Even at its most professional, it is unstable, accident-prone, smelly, uncomfortable, and expensive. Movies are faster, more thrilling, more accessible and thus more democratic, and nobody ever forgets their lines. It shouldn't come as a surprise, therefore, that throughout the 20th century, the theatre found itself under fire from without and within. As early as the 1930s, the French actor, playwright and theorist Antonin Artaud pronounced that the cinema will win out "as long as theatre confines itself to giving us access to the mind of some clowns."

By the 1950s, that critique had become commonplace, and the crisis of theatre had become endemic. Psychologizing drama, verse plays, society comedies: Reading English plays of the immediate post-war period today is a mostly boring and occasionally embarrassing exercise. In hindsight, one thing becomes clear, however: Theatre had to break with the idea of presenting exceptionally articulate characters articulating exceptionally interesting things. And this is where Beckett, Pinter and Stoppard come in.

All three of them have little time for coherence in the plays that make up tonight's bill.
Superficially, Stoppard's characters in After Magritte (1970) find it hard to stick to any given subject, Pinter's characters in The Dumb Waiter (1960) find it hard to talk sense, and Beckett's player in Act Without Words I (1956) does not speak at all. They all operate on the edge of reason, linguistically and psychologically: Far from "giving us access to the mind of some clowns," these plays make a point of inaccessibility: God knows what makes Ben, Gus, the Player, Thelma, Harris and the rest of them tick, but since God doesn't get his say, we have to remain ignorant. And this is an opportunity gained, not lost: Facing un-reasonable figures with no-one in charge and no master plot to be followed, we need to meet that want on our own. These plays do not mean anything in themselves, but we can make them mean for us. Thus they allow us a glance at a clown's mind after all - our mind, that is. Luckily, we don't have to supply the jokes; whatever theatre on the edge of reason can't do any more, it can at least excite some mad laughter...
Peter-Paul Schnierer