At times it is easier to accept the absurdity of reality through experiencing works of fiction, rather than through observing the daily activities of one’s surroundings. Creating a distance between fantasy and fiction, performances have the liberty to actively critique—and even bluntly criticize—the preposterous actions and subsequent reactions of characters. When limited to theatrical productions, these exaggerated characters are integral to plot development, heightening suspense while engaging the seated viewer with the action on stage. The absurd states of characters are often metaphors for political, cultural, religious, and racial stereotypes or personifications of injustices in society. Through playing hypothetical dress-up, playwrights are able to catalyze conversation, which is pertinent to the realm of fantasy acted-out as well as the troubled reality in which the viewer resides.
Commenting on the hypocritical nature of humanity, the absurdist play Ubu Roi, performed during the Lincoln Center Festival at Gerald W Lynch Theatre, lambasts the lifestyle of power-hungry, social-climbing individuals. Originally debuted in the1880’s the radical play paints an outrageous portrait of the father figure Ubu, who throughout the play adopts two conflicting guises: a spineless coward and a murderous tyrant. Psychedelic music, sporadic lighting, random screaming fits, and food fights characterize the peculiar performance. Yet, it is in this unsettling environment that reality and fantasy intertwine. Darkly comedic, the performance brashly parodies politicians and dictators, portraying them as inept, scheming, and ultimately doomed human beings.
Through crafting a fictional reality, Alfred Jerry, the script’s original playwright, forces viewers to internalize the chaotic state of modern reality. The play actively critiques the malpractice of individuals with both too much and too little power. Rather than being prescriptive, Ubu Roi proposes no revolutionary solutions to despots, politicians, or the self-seeking common man. In all, Ubu Roi is both jarringly offensive and refreshingly enlightening. It shocks the viewer into accepting the absurdity of both fictional and actual realities, leaving the viewer, now awakened, to determine how best to cope with the unsettling chaos of humanity.