Victims of Duty: Absurdism and Ambiguity

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Article by Colin Brier <>

This week, I sat down with the principal cast and stage managers of the upcoming production of Victims of Duty to get an idea of what the play is about. Victims of Duty is a one-act drama by Eugene Ionesco that was written in 1953. As well as being a somewhat autobiographical work related to Ionesco’s life and love of theater, the play also explores the themes of fascism and power.

If you were to simply hear someone describe the plot, the early part of the play might seem straightforward: a married couple spending the night together in their home discussing the theater and current events.  But when a detective knocks on their door looking for someone named Mallot, the play quickly shifts from a traditional drama into something far more absurd and engaging. When describing the energy of the play, Elliot Cetinski ’24, who plays the lead role of Chaubert, said, “It’s just constantly on the move, the energy is constantly high, there’s not really much down-time. Everything just keeps moving for the actors as well as the audience.” 

Though the members of the cast and crew of Victims of Duty have all participated in other productions, this play stands out in its ambiguity of plot. As an absurdist work, it is largely up to the viewer’s interpretation to make sense of what they have just seen. Some might have a tough time conveying this ambiguity of meaning, but the members of the production are adamant that therein lies the play’s charm. Said Spencer Toth ’25, who plays the Detective: “It almost asks you to come back and be like, I need to watch it again or really chew on this and think about it.” As with any ambiguous work of art, Victims of Duty requires some digestion or discussion on the part of the viewers. The viewer will spend much of the play hurtling toward the end with the actors and find themselves unpacking it all after the curtain falls.

Another reason why this ambiguity is effective at captivating its audience? The audience itself becomes a participant in the plot of the play. As the drama unfolds, the space between the audience and the cast becomes blurrier, and the fourth wall is broken on numerous occasions. This technique allows the actors to bring the audience deeper into the fold and make them think about what is happening. Stage manager Caitlin Cunnane ’27 described a more traditional play as being like a book, in which you just see what “people are saying and how they’re feeling,” but in an absurdist work like Victims of Duty you can “almost truly feel a thought and get into the characters’ emotions.” Beyond making the audience more empathetic towards the characters that they are observing, they are forced to ponder their existence within the play. About the role of the audience, Cetinski adds, “It brings up some interesting questions about our role as people when we see things happening, do we feel like we are supposed to be watching, or we’re supposed to be intervening?”

The play is not entirely rooted in ambiguity; there are major themes throughout that were relevant in post-WWII Europe that still feel just as relevant today. Themes related to duty, power, war, and fascism are deeply rooted parts of the European society that formed Ionesco’s work, but these themes also strongly resonate with the current events going on throughout the world. With all the turmoil going on, now feels like a meaningful time to explore these themes in our art. Says Toth regarding the play’s themes: “It really feels like it hasn’t aged a day.”You can go see Victims of Duty starting this Thursday, November 2nd through Saturday, November 4th at 7:30 pm, followed by an (ASL) American Sign Language performance on Sunday, November 5th at 2:00 pm. All performances will take place in the Blackbox Studio Theater in the Kaleidoscope Performing Arts Center and tickets for students cost $5, with general admission priced at $8. So, grab a friend and come out and experience a play unlike any you have seen before!