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    playwrites

      CHEWING THE EXISTENTIAL CUD:

      THE TRANSFORMATION OF TRAGEDY IN

      *THE DARK AT THE TOP OF THE STAIRS.*

      David Johansson..page4

      So Inge is the only one of the 50's "big three" with an answer. And it isn't pat. It's as complex as human behavior, yet we may be thankful that it's as complex as human behavior, yet we may be thankful that it's more rational. Inge's people gut it out, whereas in Menagerie Tom escapes into alcoholic oblivion to become a poet, and in Salesman Biff hightails it to Texas to be a cowboy all abandoning their families. And while Rubin Flood may be a philandering drunk, he's willing to make an effort at home. And maybe that is more heroic than the tragedy of Willy Loman less theatrical perhaps, but just as dignified, in a quieter way.

      In The Dark at the Top of the Stairs, The Flood family finds itself in as much of a dysfunctional mess as the ones constructed by Williams and Miller. The little boy Sonny is teased, Cora is beaten, Rubin commits adultery and his daughter, Reenie, like Laura in Menagerie, is a cowering introvert who vomits whenever she has a date. So the family is in a fix, a fix financially and emotionally. But unlike Willy in Salesman or Amanda in Menagerie, Cora in Dark centers her family. She accomplishes this through pragmatism, for both she and her husband Rubin are not prey to the false idealism of Willy and Amanda. Willy and Amanda are trapped by nostalgia. They fall into the well of the past. Cora and Rubin, on the other hand, find release through extroversion. They don't sulk, they act, and the audience's experience of this marvelous display of will this volition inspires theatre-goes.

      Dark's resolution holds open at least the possibility of improvement, and that is territory staked out by Inge. Indeed, at the close of Dark Cora relinquishes a small part of her matriarchal power in return for which her "handsome buck" of a husband tacitly agrees not to stray toward the Mavis Pruitts of the world. In short, they compromise, each bends, and in so doing they achieve an emotional as well as a physical diplomacy unavailable to Morris and Lottie, the couple Inge places in counterpoint to them. Lottie, Cora's sister, and her husband Morris are stable but passionless. Lottie even envies Cora's quarrels with Rubin. She exclaims, "I wish to God someone loved me enough to hit me. You and Rubin fight. Oh, God I like a good fight. Anything'd be better than this nothing."


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