In 1942, Albert Camus published “The Myth of Sisyphus”, an essay about absurdism, which revolutionized the absurdist movement and inspired the theater of the absurd. Some of the early plays included “The Maids” by Jean Genet, “The Bald Soprano” by Eugene Ionesco, and “Waiting for Godot” by Samuel Beckett. Beckett was known for his minimalist style and was mentored by James Joyce and had ties with Flann O’Brien. The minimalism with the sparse number of characters, little to no dialogue, the use of stage directions, and bare set bridges the gap between modernism and postmodernism. “Act Without Words” (later followed by Act Without Words II, with two actors), traces back to the Myth of Sisyphus, only stylizes another mythological figure of the underworld, Tantalus, who was tormented for water and tied down in a lake in the underworld with a branch of fruit he could not reach above his head.
The theater of the absurd was a response to the events of WWII and the existentialist movements of the time. By creating these plays, the authors were able to illustrate the themes of the absurdist movement, such as the lack of communication, the purposelessness of life, and the feeling of being disconnected from the world. Other themes seen in the works of this movement include nihilism, existential angst, and the idea of a meaningless universe. These themes were reinforced by the lack of plot and traditional structure in the plays and the lack of dialogue or character development. Audiences were left with a feeling of confusion and isolation as they watched the characters struggle with their own existence and the lack of a clear plot. This form of theater became popular in the 1950s and 60s, and many of the works of the period have since become classics, such as “Endgame” by Samuel Beckett and “The Caretaker” by Harold Pinter. The theater of the absurd continues to influence theater and literature today.