A Minimal, Absurd Playwright

One can’t help but notice the sparse nature of this play in both its length and its language.  The first thing that caught my attention was in the character notes, as Churchill explains, “The Parade (scene 2.5): five is too few and twenty better than ten.  A hundred?”(2) which, for some reason, left me with a very odd feeling even before I started reading the play.  It was like a riddle that was really a stage direction.  This must be the nature of Churchill’s writing:  minimal, puzzling, and defamiliarizing.  The reader, once emerged, is able to tell that something very peculiar is brewing from opening conversation.

Joan:  I can’t sleep.
Harper:  It’s a strange bed.
Joan:  No, I like different places
Harper:  Are you cold?
Joan:  No.
Harper:  Do you want a drink?
Joan:  I think I am cold.  (3)

Though this opening is simple, there is something unnatural about Joan and Harper’s interaction.  Or, maybe, it is strange because it is so natural (chilling), defying the sophisticated dialogue that many writer’s take on.  The reader is left with little, forcing him, or her, to fill in the gaps which gives this piece a global compatibility (this happens somewhere, far away…or maybe not so far away).  By the final scene, the script has turned into a global affair: a war in which the entirety of the world is involved, “The Bolivians are working with gravity, that’s a secret so as not to spread it alarm.  But we’re getting further with noise and there’s thousands dead of light in Madagascar.  Who’s going to mobilise darkness and silence?  That’s what I wondered in the night” (37).

Each act is detached from the others in action and language.  The first, with Young Joan and Harper, is a specific event involving a child witness to a traumatic event performed by her uncle who, though Harper says he’s doing good for the people in the lorry (Harper won’t tell the truth to a child), is obviously doing something evil.  The event is portrayed by what a young girl saw and how it is explained by an adult who doesn’t want her to know the truth (like a media depiction of world news).  The second act features Joan and Todd’s employment but also their critical approach to how their hat-making industry (and world) works.  “we could expose the corrupt financial basis of how the whole hat industry is run, not just this place, I bet the whole industry is dodgy” (26).  Todd especially starts these subversive conversations but, overall, they are fairly compliant to their work, which is making hats for executions.  The reason for the executions is unknown which adds ambiguity and universality to the piece.  Also, I think, political sway.  The third and final act takes place in a world consumed by war.  It is ultimate dystopia:  nations are gaining control of animals, weather, substances, and elements.  It is an all-consuming warfare where national interest exceeds natural law.  This is absurd to our current paradigms of reason but what this play demonstrates, through its absurdity, has been in our consciousness since the first world war and especially after the creation of the atomic bomb.  I thought of this play as an advanced post-modern outlook on where the world is headed.  Science, surveillance, and rapid, global modernization could very well lead us into dire straits.

For anyone who interested, the following post is a recent monologue that Churchill did for the cause of Palestine.  It is short and very good.  Please watch.

 

Works Cited:

Churchill, Caryl.  Far Away.  New York: Theatre Communications Group, 2001.  Print.

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