Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Unfair Arguments with Existence (New Directions, 1963)
[originally posted 17Sep2001]
Five very short plays (despite the subtitle on some books) by A Coney Island of the Mind author Ferlinghetti, who believes that classic drama has “fatal flaws.” Judging by the way he attempts to right said flaws, those flaws have much to do with plot, theme, and dialogue. All five of these plays tend to focus on a specific character, who’s given to long monologues that stutter on, going nowhere and not really enjoying the journey too much.
Two are noteworthy, however. One, “The Victims of Amnesia,” does have enough dialogue between characters to keep it interesting, and is based on Ferlinghetti’s amusing conjunction of two completely unrelated scenes in Andre Breton’s classic novel Nadja (one of them also, it can be assumed, the genesis for the film Memento). The final image in this mini-play is definitely one that sticks with the reader. The final play, “The Customs Collector in Baggy Pants,” takes the same approach as the others, and in fact has only one visible person throughout (and one speaking part), but for once, the speaker doesn’t stutter, cut himself off, or otherwise interrupt his wildly careening flow of thought, and it makes the play much easier to read and visualize.
These two are worth the price of admission, if you can pick this up for two bucks somewhere; the rest can fade into well-deserved obscurity. **