If you’ve ever laughed at Family Guy, Adult Swim, or the Daffy Duck short “Duck Amuck,” you owe a debt of gratitude to Franco-Romanian playwright EUGÈNE IONESCO (1909–94). Although he wasn’t the father of absurdist theater, his plays are arguably the best expressions of the movement; they helped pave the way for everyone from David Lynch to John Cleese. Ionesco saw the world as a dying, corrupt place, filled with people going through the same meaningless actions day after day. While Hannah Arendt was fascinated by the banality of evil men, Ionesco was fascinated by the banality of the world in which such men lived. He didn’t write his first play until he was nearly 40, but it was worth the wait. La Cantatrice Chauve (The Bald Soprano) features a cast of “normal” characters on the verge of fou rire — at any moment, it seems that the characters will experience an uncontrollable fit of the giggles that will slowly transition to bitter tears. In our own historical moment, in which fewer and fewer people talk to their friends and coworkers face-to-face, Ionesco’s characters — who tend to be unable to communicate — are all too familiar.
READ MORE about members of the Partisan Generation (1904-13).