The Absurdity of Denial: Staging the 'American Way of Death'
New Theatre Quarterly
Cambridge University Press (CUP)
Death denial is a psychological impulse and a cultural attitude that banishes thoughts about death and disavows the reality of personal mortality. In theatre, death denial can function as an unexamined philosophy and conditioning element unless it is foregrounded and challenged. In this article Adrian Curtin looks at two examples of American experimental theatre that did just that: a 1975 production of Dino Buzzati’s 1953 play Un Caso Clinico (A Clinical Case) and Terminal (1969-1971), a collectively created work by the Open Theatre. Buzzati’s play is little known, especially in English-language scholarship. This article pairs an obscure work with a canonical work in order to offer new insight into American experimental theatre of the early 1970s. It indicates how both productions contributed to the contemporaneous ‘death awareness’ movement, which opened up matters relating to death and dying. These productions highlighted the illogicality and absurdity of death denial, exposing the delusional basis of this attitude and its potentially damaging effects on the individual and society. Adrian Curtin is a Lecturer in the Drama department at the University of Exeter. He is the author of Avant-Garde Theatre Sound: Staging Sonic Modernity (Palgrave, 2014) and multiple essays on theatre sound, musical performance, and modernism. He is the 2015 winner of the Early Career Research Prize, awarded by the Theatre and Performance Research Association.
This is the author accepted manuscript. The final version is available from Cambridge University Press (CUP) via the DOI in this record.
Vol. 33, Iss. 2, May 2017, pp. 125-142