On My Fascination With Ionesco

Eugene Ionesco

I don’t really know why I love Ionesco so much.  I think much of my admiration-fascination-obsession with him as a playwright comes from him being my first real exposure to absurdism in the theater.

Along with all the creative writing we students were required to do as part of the School of the Arts regimen, we were also trained in academic writing, from timed essays (where I first learned the five-paragraph model that served me well during college’s timed exams) to research papers.  The first research paper I remember doing was on Eugène Ionesco.

I don’t remember what I wrote about him – and extant copies of the paper, undoubtedly rightfully so, no longer exist.  All I know is that I was fascinated with him… not so much for his earlier plays like The Bald Soprano and The Lesson but for his later plays in all their straggly glory.  Oh.  Rhinoceros.

[Bless you. –ed.]

No, I didn’t sneeze.  I said Rhinoceros.

[Bless you again –ed.]

No, you see that’s the name of the first of Ionesco’s plays I read.  I think it was assigned in class, but out of that reading my fascination grew like a week.  All because of a little (well, full-length) play called Rhinoceros.

[Maybe you should be home in bed if you’re that sick. –ed.]

I’m not – maybe if I just ignore you, you’ll go away.

[You’re welcome to try it. –ed.]

So, what drew me to Ionesco first, I think, was the premise of… the play about the one-horned mammal.

[The Unicorn? –ed.]

No, of course not.  The rhinoceros.

[Bless you. –ed.]

So, it was the premise of that play that curried my favor, and then the wordplay in his plays that kept me interested.  Ionesco is a master of misunderstanding, his characters often lost in a Kafka-esque universe where they think, at first, that they know what’s going on but are quickly proven wrong by the events that whirl around them.  I was seduced by the plays where Ionesco is himself a character on stage, either arguing with himself or with critics.  I was entranced by the use of the same main character (Bérenger) in four plays, and how those Bérengers aren’t related to each other at all, i.e. the plays don’t add up to a unified whole.  I was wrapped around Ionesco’s finger by his use, in The Killer, of a character who didn’t exist, who, according to the script, is shown just by clothing hung from wires.

I’ve never seen an Ionesco play performed, and I’m not sure I would enjoy one if I did.  His plays exist so fully in my mind that they could never live up to what I’ve already imagined.

That being said, in the next few days I’m going to try and explain what’s in my mind so that you, too, can be spoiled.

Tomorrow: Rhinoceros.

[Bless you. –ed.]

Oh, shut up.

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