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literature

Alpha Index:  A-B  C-F  G-K  L-Q  R-S  T-Z

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Genet, Jean (19l0-1986)  
 
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The characters themselves are difficult to assess since none of them is reliable about the truth of his own emotions or intentions. Much of the dialogue in the play points toward the characters' pasts, yet no one ever reveals more about his life before prison besides the crime that put him there.

The final crime of the play is Lefranc's murder of Maurice. Intending to impress Green Eyes and finally to win his attention away from Maurice, Lefranc finds he is the victim of Green Eyes's betrayal--Green Eyes turns him in to the guard. This highly symbolic climax reemphasizes Genet's preoccupation with betrayal and martyrdom.

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The play investigates the relationship between the three inmates as well as the "outside" relationship with Green Eyes's unseen girlfriend. Convinced that both Lefranc and Maurice desire his girlfriend, Green Eyes finally "gives" her to the guard.

The absurdity of Deathwatch is quite similar in tone to the "Theater of the Absurd," traditionally equated with dramatists such as Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter, and Eugene Ionesco.

The Balcony

The Balcony (1956) is perhaps the best known of Genet's dramatic works. A brilliant and provocative play, The Balcony is set in a brothel, or the "house of illusions," in an undisclosed country. Madame Irma's house of illusions is a place where plumbers, bank clerks, and chiefs of police come to act out their sexual fantasies as judges, bishops, generals, and so on.

The illusions must be erotic, complete, and undisturbed. When the illusion is broken, when one of the prostitutes breaks his or her role as criminal or penitent, the illusion is destroyed. The "bishop" notes that, "So long as we were in a room in a brothel, we belonged to our fantasies, but once having exposed them, we're now tied up with human beings, tied to you and forced to go on with this adventure according to the laws of visibility."

The most important event in The Balcony is the bloody "Revolution" occurring in the city. The play complicates the reality of this revolution, constantly questioning which is the more real, the sexual fantasies or the revolution.

In fact, in Richard Schechner's 1979 New York production, the revolution was portrayed as yet another fantasy created for the erotic pleasure of Madame Irma's clients.

The figure of Chantal, an ex-prostitute turned revolutionary, is the key link between the house of illusions and the revolution; she is a symbol of purity and inspiration for the revolutionaries, yet her death near the end of the play represents a victory for the counter-revolutionaries.

In both cases, it is the nationalistic symbol that Genet implies is false, no more than a role.

The Balcony is a stunning spectacle on stage. With scenes of sadomasochism, erotic fantasies, self-castration, and role-playing, the drama invites the audience to participate visually in many of the situations and fantasies Genet foregrounds in his novels.

The Maids, The Blacks, and The Screens

Genet's dramatic works remain faithful to the playwright's interest in gender identity and sexual orientation. His other plays, including The Maids (1947, revised 1954), The Blacks (1958), and The Screens (1961), question the social roles people are assigned as a result of their race, class status, sexual orientation, or ethnicity.

The Maids explores the relationship of two young servants and their wealthy mistress. Though Genet originally intended male actors to play the female roles, The Maids is usually staged by actresses. Highly stylized and ritualistic, The Maids was a huge success in Europe and remains a staple of continental drama.

The Blacks, written as a vehicle for an all-black cast, is similar to the ritualistic theater of Antonin Artaud. The play consists of three complex stories all centering on the murder of a white woman, whose coffin remains in the center of the stage as a symbol of the Blacks' reaction to white domination.

The Screens, Genet's response to the Algerian war (1954-1963), is literally a play of epic proportions containing nearly 100 characters on an enormous multileveled set. The play details both the war and the relationship between an Arab mother and son, one of the most sophisticated characterizations of a woman in all of Genet's works.

As a dramatist, Genet has been both a delight and a terror for modern directors. Although his plays incorporate much of the richness inherent in the novels, many directors, including Peter Brook, have had enormous difficulty staging Genet's plays due in part to their surrealist qualities and cryptic characterizations.

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