Eugene Ionesco and the Marx Brothers
Today is the birthday of Roumanian-French absurdist playwright Eugene Ionesco (1909-1994). In 1960 he claimed that the three greatest influences on his writing had been Groucho, Chico and Harpo Marx. But anyone who has encountered his plays scarcely needs him to point that out. The constant tactic of non-sequitur and disorientation, of seemingly pointless words and actions, are the common signatures. The disjointed parroting of phrases in The Bald Soprano (1950) reminds me of Groucho’s headgames with Rosco W. Chandler in Animal Crackers…or nearly any encounter between Chico and Groucho. The opening beats of The Chairs (1952) remind one of the stateroom sequence of A Night at the Opera. Or, watch Zero Mostel turn into the titular Rhinoceros in this 1974 film version of the 1960 play:
So marked is the relationship between Ionesco’s writing and certain kinds of nonsensical vaudeville comedy writing that in 1974 some of his scenes were turned into a musical vaudeville revue called Ionescopade (it was revived earlier this year by the York Theatre Company.)
To find out more about the variety arts past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. And don’t miss Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, to be released by Bear Manor Media in 2013.