WAG: Your work has straddled the fences of
the absurdist movements and the naturalist / realist
movements. How have you managed that?
Every story demands to be told in its
own way, and so I shift back and forth, depending
upon the needs of the story I'm telling. Some of
my plays, like Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf
or The Zoo Story, are absolutely naturalistic,
and others are highly stylized because that's what
the play demands to be told effectively.
And yet when you did The Zoo Story,
which was first produced in 1959 in Berlin, they
were putting you in with the absurdist movements
of Pirandello and Ionesco.
Why did that happen? Because there was
a misunderstanding about the nature of the Theater
of the Absurd. Martin Esslin, a very, very bright
German critic, wrote a book called The Theater
of the Absurd in which he pointed out that the
Theater of the Absurd as it originated in France
in the 1940s was basically a post-existentialist
movement—you know, Sartre and Camus. Having
to do with the absurdity of man's position in a
universe that made no sense. And that was the philosophical
basis of the Theater of the Absurd. Then people
started to think it had something to do with the
style that the plays were written in: any play that
wasn't naturalistic was absurd. So the whole philosophical
basis of calling something the Theater of the Absurd
went out the window. Any play that wasn't three-dimensional,
naturalistic, kitchen-sink drama was Theater of
the Absurd. Like most categories and definitions,
it doesn't make much sense any more, unfortunately.
Most labels are oversimplifications, I think.