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Friday, January 11, 2008

SYNOPSIS OF “THE EXISTENTIALISTS”

Informal poll.

Would anyone here want to watch a play like the one I will describe below? Why or why not?

“The Existentialists” is a tragedy in three acts with a fourth act satyr play. Structurally, it has a Greek tragic macrostructure, with a Shakespearean microstructure. The first three acts focus on the French intellectual Jean-Paul Sartre, and his political evolution during and immediately after World War II. The fourth act satirizes Sartre’s philosophy and politics. All four are designed to work together, and cannot be separated if the full effect is to be achieved.

In Act I, Sartre, Camus, and Beauvoir are at work on the Resistance newspaper during the German Occupaiton of Paris. We see a Sartre who does not know how to act, but who is full of great ideals. His decision to give a speech when Nazi soldiers are on the way to raid the Resistance printing office costs them equipment, and almost costs them their lives. Sartre is primarily allowed to do this through the indulgence of the much more worldly Camus and Beauvoir.

In Act II, Sartre is visited by Karl Jaspers in his office. Jaspers tells of a confrontation he had with Heidegger over the Holocaust – and how Heidegger chose to ignore it. When Jaspers leaves, Sartre imagines conversing with Beauvoir and Heidegger over Communism. Sartre is beginning to find his own political position in opposition to Heidegger, and decides that the opposite of Nazism is Communism.

Act III begins with Michelle Vian visiting Sartre. She is one of his lovers, and she has come to tell him she is pregnant and is going to get an abortion. With great indifference, Sartre tells her to do what she wants. When she leaves, Sartre is visited by Camus in his office. Camus confronts Sartre for his support of Communism in light of Stalin’s killings. When given the choice between supporting the Communists who murder their own people and keeping Camus’ friendship, Sartre rejects Camus. Beauvoir appears as Camus leaves, and supports Sartre – but by the end, Sartre has to face the consequences of his actions and inactions, with Vian’s infertility, the Soviet murders and the loss of his friend.

The final act, Act IV, is a satyr play, which satirizes the aftereffects of Sartre’s philosophy and politics. A Harvard student, Randy, takes advantage of young idealist women to have sex with them. When two young men confront him, he calls out a chorus of Che Guevara t-shirt wearing cheerleaders, who convince the two young men they should be in it for the sex too.

CHARACTERS

Jean-Paul Sartre – a French philosopher, fiction writer, and playwright who worked for the French Resistance during World War II during the German Occupation. As he converts to Communism, he begins to defend the murders of the Communists, which results in his breaking off his friendship with Camus.

Albert Camus – a French-Algerian novelist who also wrote newspaper editorials and philosophy. He worked for the French Resistance and stood for freedom and against tyranny all his life. He broke off his friendship with Sartre over Sartre’s support for the Stalinist murders. He and Sartre remained estranged until Camus’ death in 1960 from an automobile accident.

Simone de Beauvoir – a French philosopher and novelist, who influenced and was influenced by Sartre, who was her life-long lover, though they never married. She supports Sartre in all things.

Martin Heidegger – a German philosopher who joined the Nazi party. His lover, Hannah Arendt, was a Jew. His philosophy greatly influenced Sartre’s

Karl Jaspers – a German philosopher who was a friend of Heidegger’s. He flees Germany because his wife is a Jew. He acts as a messenger to Sartre, telling him of their friend, Heidegger’s, unethical behavior and political positions.

Michelle Vian -- one of Sartre’s lovers, who comes to tell him she is pregnant with his child and plans to get an abortion.

Arnold – a French resistant whose anti-Semitism causes his ejection from the resistance and his betrayal of the movement to the Nazis.

Man of the Resistance

Nazi Soldiers

Chorus of the Murdered

Randy – a sexual opportunist who cynically uses women’s ideals to have sex with them.

Woman 1 – a young neo-hippy woman

Woman 2 – a militant African-American woman

Woman 3 – a militant Hispanic woman

Woman 4 – a KKK woman

Woman 5 – an Existentialist woman

African-Am. Man – a militant young college student

Hispanic Man – a militant young college student

Chorus of Cheerleaders

5 comments:

Lucky 13 said...

I'd watch such a play, although I would hope the characterization of Sartre the man would be handled with the respect and sensitivity that the dead deserve, regardless of their philosophy or politics.

Dr. T said...

Not all the dead deserve respect (I think Hitler needs to be made fun of as often as possible), but I am fond of Sartre -- this is why it's a tragedy and not a comedy. When great men who are undoubtedly great fall short, you get tragedy.

John Mac said...

I'm of the opinion that the living shouldn't sneer at the dead, period. It's bad manners and it's bad luck. Then again, I'm as hypocritical as any other ape-- just the other day I was cursing out Foucault, God rest his soul. As for Sartre, it sounds like you plan to represent him fairly, so that's good. I'd love to see or read the play.

Dr. T said...

If I'm going to make fun of anyone, I'm going to make fun of the living. But that's another play . . .

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