‘The Madman and the Nun’ by Stanislaw I. Witkiewicz aka Witkacy.
Written in 1923 and first staged in 1924, ‘The Madman and the Nun’ dedicated to ‘all the madmen of the world’ takes as its theme the tyranny of society over the individual.
Witkacy skillfully creates the confusion between sanity and madness, reality and fantasy. Medicine and academia are scrutinized and we witness a man’s futile attempt to curb the ‘demons’ of existence.
Witkacy’s decadent poet and drug addict, Walpurg, epitomises the destiny of exceptional beings who are locked in padded cells and trapped in ever-widening circles of incarceration by body, family, and society. The Freudian psychiatrist Grün hopes to cure Walpurg by rendering him normal and restoring him to society. As the only way out of imprisonment, Walpurg seduces his nurse (beautiful Sister Anna) and so it begins…
‘The Madman and the Nun’ can be seen as an absurdist black comedy in which science, religion and state form a totalitarian alliance to bring about enforced happiness and social tranquillity through psychiatric confinement.
The play also encompasses an individual’s search for connection through the loneliness, madness and eccentricity and offers some hope in finding redemption and absolution in love.
The author himself felt threatened by insanity – an expression of rebellious exuberant individuality – and as such the play is considered to be highly autobiographical.
The structure of the play escapes the conventional rules of dramatic logic in a subversive manner that questions the boundaries of rationality.
Witkacy is widely considered to be a precursor of The Theatre of the Absurd, preceding Samuel Beckett and Eugene Ionesco.