The American Dream
13 March 2024
As Edward Albee put it himself, he had been inspired by Ionescu for many of the scenes in his play The American Dream which he elaborated according to the coordinates of the theatre of the absurd. Personally, in the last few years I have been very interested in looking at contemporary society through the lens of the absurd. I firmly believe this is the way to question our taken-for-granted convictions and our established habits – which are, for the most part, indulgences. I don’t see the theatre of the absurd as a carrier of nonsense, but quite the opposite. The apparent freedom of capitalist society which dazzles us with the luxury of choices and possibilities is made up of artificial constructs claiming that there is one sense only. Today’s society is complex, but it is not complicated. Unfortunately, it does sometimes appear to be complicated because we confront it in a very superficial or banal way. We are after some kind of break from everything, since there really is simply too much of everything. In a society dominated by speeding up, where everything is happening faster and faster, there is still no time for everything: let alone, for reflection. In a society in which we are all connected in an interconnected infosphere, the sense of loneliness has reached its peak. Attitudes to language have entered a pre-teen era, with phrases such as »armed humanitarian action« – clearly the vilest oxymoron of the last twenty years.
What is less dangerous, but nonetheless absurd, are the clouds, those seemingly innocuous, ethereal sites where we can store our vital data (including chats, selfies, and short videos). We don’t give a damn that all this is stored on very concrete servers that guzzle enormous amounts of energy. Our environmental footprint is a concern because we do not want to limit our comfort zone. We see the idea of freedom precisely in convenience. Our daily confrontation with the world as we have built it is a slice of absurdity that we shy from admitting. Is our selfish and covertly narcissistic society still willing to enter into a dialogue at all? What is the meaning of the word dialogue today, even for actors? Most of the spectators are used to being seen, watched, observed; everyone is performing. What are we, theatre makers, to do with our humble fourth wall? It may need restoring too. In his Preface, Albee described The American Dream as »an examination of the American Scene, an attack on the substitution of artificial for real values in our society, a condemnation of complacency, cruelty, emasculation and vacuity; it is a stand against the fiction that everything in this slipping land of ours is peachy-keen.« When I read the play, I thought to myself: perhaps this is a classic text already? We do not read the classics – as we all know, they read us. What can we achieve with this text today? Albee may have summed it up succinctly too: »Is the play offensive? I certainly hope so; it was my intention to offend – as well as amuse and entertain.« And, yes: there will be no interval.