If you are seeking relaxing entertainment, this one ain't it, folks. But if you are one of those liberal
types who enjoy the unconventional and avante-garde, (and some rather raw humor), then do give this one a try.
Before you do, however, unless you are already familiar, it will help to get a little background info on Theater of the Absurd, of which this play is an early precursor. To read Wikipedia's informative article, please click here: Theatre of the Absurd. The actual term was coined in 1960 by critic Martin Esslin and before that, the idea of the Absurd was explored by Albert Camus in The Myth of Sisyphus in1942, where the futility of life and humanity's search for meaning was compared to this Greek mythological figure who was condemned to spend eternity pushing a boulder up a mountain, only to have it roll down again before reaching the top.
Though each playwright whose works fall into the "Absurd" category had their own style of expressing absurdity, comedy or tragicomedy played an important role. And that is certainly the case with this present work. Ubu Roi ou les polonaise (King Ubu or the Poles) had a short run consisting of a dress rehearsal on December 9, 1896, and the premiere the following night. Jarry's other two "Ubu" plays, Ubu Cocu, and Ubu Enchaîné were never performed in his short lifetime. In the Dover edition, "Ubu" is translated as "Turd," but it is really a nonsense word. Jarry modeled the main character after a much-despised teacher, M. Hébert. To quote from the beginning "Note" in the Dover Edition "Over the years Jarry worked on the play, Ubu came to embody every despicable quality: he is pompous, vain, cruel, stupid, murderous, cowardly, greedy, and authoritarian—altogether an exemplary authority figure." And though the play is filled with all of the above, it is precisely those exaggerated qualities which, far from invoking feelings of horror, instead make it humorous and certainly absurd.
One such example is when Ubu becomes King, and decides to summon all the Nobles to the Palace, where he pushes them through the Trap Door, to be consumed by the Printing-Press (the Debraining Machine). He gets kill-happy, so he also pushes in the Magistrates, then the Financiers, then really gets going and pushes in a little bit of everybody. Here the script calls for an ad lib, and this particular edition contains a humorous ad lib from a 1952 performance in New York. The list of people who get pushed "into the trap!" takes up over two pages, and here are just a few:
Winston Churchill, Frank Lloyd Wright, Napoleon, Shirley Temple—into the Trap!
Salvador Dali, Adam and Eve, Rita Hayworth, and Cardinal Spellman—into the Trap!
Jesus Christ, the Waiters at Chumley's, Santa Claus, and the Trapp Family—into the Trap!
Robert Service, Civil Service, Diaper Service, and all the boys in the Service—
Into the Trap!
The play begins as Mama Turd scolds Papa Turd for being only Captain of the Dragoons, Privy Councillor to King
Wenceslaus and Knight of the Red Eagle of Poland, when he used to be King of
Aragon. (In Jarry's opening speech, he says the play "takes place in Poland—that is to say, nowhere," referring to the non-existence of the Polish
state due to partitioning by surrounding domineering countries.) Papa Turd
rebukes her, saying he'd rather be"poor as a thin honest rat than rich like a wicked fat cat."
Yeah, right. . .pshit, as the Turds would say. . .
Nonetheless, Papa Turd, Captain Bordure, and The Champions, Gyron, Pile, and Coccyx plot to kill Wenceslaus at the upcoming parade. Papa Turd suggests arsenic in his breakfast so he drops dead, but Bordure wants to slit him in half with his sword. Turd objects:
"And what if he starts kicking you? I just remembered—on parade he wears iron boots and they really hurt. If I had thought of that before, I'd've gone and denounced the bunch of you for dragging me into this mess. I'll bet I'd get a reward, too."
Mama Turd: "Oh! The traitor, the coward, the scaly, scurvy son-of-a-bitch!"
All: "Vomit on Papa Turd."
They do succeed in killing Wenceslaus, and his sons, Boleslaus and Ladislaus. Fourteen-year-old Buggerlaus and the Queen escape, however. Once in
power, Turd become the epitome of everything corrupt, foul, greedy, and despicable. He forgets his promise to Bordure to make him Duke of Lithuania.
". . .he can go scratch his ass. . . "
which pisses off Bordure a bit, especially after Turd throws him in jail. He escapes and seeks the help of Emperor Alexis in Moscow.
The Polish army (one soldier) prepares for war. . .
This play is filled with violence and disgust, but will keep you chuckling, kind of like The Three Stooges. But in its absurdity, it makes a sobering point about power and greed, and the ease in which humanity embraces corruption for selfish gains.
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