Arts, OldVenue

Undiscovered theatrical gems

The success of a play lies not only in its action and dialogue, but equally it’s translation to the stage. There are many plays recognised as having mastered this craft; all the same, there are plenty of hidden gems from lesser-known playwrights, whose power matches up to any critically aclaimed theatrical master piece. Here are three examples of such dramatic works which deserve more recognition in the literary world.

With The Just Assassins, published in 1949, the French literary genius Albert Camus crafts a riveting, action-packed but also highly psychological analysis of terrorism, revolution and social change. It focuses on a group of Russian socialists at the turn of the century who are planning to assassinate the Grand Duke Serge, uncle of the Tsar. Inspired by true events, the play intertwines suspenseful tales, under the threat of terrorist attack, along with various meticulously posed metaphysical questions such as: Should violence retaliate violence? Can groups of activists really suppose that they work in the favor of ‘the people’? What is it, to kill a man?

The Suicide, written in 1928 by Russian playwright Nikolai Erdman is a play which successfully moves between hilarious situations and macabre circumstances in an almost burlesque take on death, and how death itself can be bought.

The play revolves around a young unemployed man, Semyon Semionovitch who is contemplating suicide. A neighbour of his, Alexander Petrovich, hopes to make money from Semyon’s miserable state, and ‘bids’ the poor man’s suicide to interested parties. Various people representing spheres of Russia- its intellectuals, its workers, its libertines, and even its businessmen, begin to manipulate Semyon’s ‘death’ (and so, also, his life) to put forth their own causes. All this plays out to humorous ends. Its performance was banned under Stalinist Russia, and was only able to be staged years after the author’s death. Erdman is able to achieve what makes a literary work so complete, so able to encapsulate the humorous, the tragic and the socially active: he moves us through what makes us human.

Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen’s most intricate work is his 1881 Ghosts, a twisted, deeply psychoanalytical play hosted in a Scandinavian family’s mansion. A widowed Mrs. Alving is in the process of building an orphanage as a memorial to her husband, but in reality finds herself in a struggle to redeem his vices. Her son, Oswald, who looked up to his father as an idol, returns home and confesses to his mother that he has an incurable disease that doctors believe has been inherited. Mrs. Alving must admit to her son that his father was in fact a degenerate man and this disease was his own. The careful unraveling of the plot, all taking place in one tight, reclusive space, adds to the building up of tension and the characters’ self-discovery.

In a sense, these three plays deserve recognition for their key successful uniting quality: that of combining existing human qualities and mysteries of the mind with the excitement and craft of the imaginative.


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April 2021
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