The Screens : A play in seventeen scenes by Jean Genet ; Translated from the French by Bernard Frechtman
New York : Grove Press, 1962. First printing. Stated. Hardcover. 201 pages ; 22 cm. $3.95 dust jacket with minimal wear. Pages are unmarked. Binding is firm.
A play in seventeen scenes
by Jean Genet Translated by Bernard Frechtman
With The Screens, Jean Genet has moved another step forward in what seems destined to be one of the most original theatrical ventures of our time, an undertaking begun in Deathwatch and carried forward, with ever bolder variations, in The Maids, The Balcony, and The Blacks.
A grandiose structure, which one French critic has compared in its rigor of construction and richness of detail to the cathedral of Chartres, The Screens has a cast of over fifty characters and takes place in both the world of the living and of the dead. Genet uses a multi-leveled stage, with action occurring on various tiers, and the way he uses movable screens as scenery, or suggestions of scenery, is in itself a theatrical tour de force. Characters come on stage and draw on the screens in chalk to give the setting or highlight a description; certain actions occur behind transparent screens; and characters emerging from life to death burst through the screens.
The setting of the play is ostensibly the Algerian War—a subject so explosive in France that despite the acclaim with which the publication was greeted no French producer has dared stage it — and on the surface The Screens is certainly a political play, but only as Moby Dick is a sea adventure.
The Screens was produced for the first time in June, 1961 at the Schloss-park State Theatre of West Berlin, where the leading Berlin critic, Friedrich Luft, hailed it as "a beacon on the horizon of the European theater. . ."
Some European comments:
"We are constantly aware that Genet is operating on the level of the great Greek dramatists. . . . The richness of The Screens is unequalled in the contemporary theater." —Guy Dumur, France Observateur
"The vigorous meditation so striking in The Blacks is admirably developed and carried even further in The Screens." —Michel Butor, L'Express
"With the explosive mixture of preciosity and coarseness, acute and venomous vigor, bursts of soaring lyricism and rigor of craftsmanship that make of him the last of the great Elizabethan dramatists, Jean Genet has written an epic farce, a kind of Shakespearean extravaganza." —Claude Roy, Liberation
Jean Genet was born in Paris in 1910, an illegitimate child who never knew his parents. Abandoned to the Assistance Publique, he was adopted by a peasant family in the Morvan. At ten he was sent to a reformatory for stealing. After many years in institutions, he escaped and joined the Foreign Legion, but quickly deserted. Thereafter, for many years he wandered through Europe, making his way by begging, thieving, and smuggling. During this period he spent time in the prisons of almost every country through which he passed. In 1948, after ten convictions for theft in France, he escaped life imprisonment when the President of the Republic, petitioned by a group of eminent writers and artists, granted him a pardon.
In 1942, during a long term in prison, he wrote his first book, Our Lady of the Flowers. During the following years he wrote three novels, two plays, a volume of poems, and The Thiefs Journal. His most recent work has been three major plays: The Balcony (1956), The Blacks (1958), and The Screens (1961). In 1952 Saint Genet, Comedien et Martyr, a monumental study of his work by Jean-Paul Sartre, was published.
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