Ubu--Archetypes in Theater


After seeing a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee production of Alfred Jarry's Ubu in 1999 I sent this letter to the editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. It was not published. 

Dear Editor:

            I felt compelled to respond to Mary Carole McCauley's review of Ubu in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.  Her description of UW-Milwaukee's Professional Theater Training Program's production was so negative that she urged potential theater goers to leave their brain at home.  It would be a loss to Milwaukee's cultural life for people not to see Bill Walter's brilliant adaptation of Alfred Jarry's turn-of-the-century play.

            I was fascinated with all levels of the production.  As a Jungian psychoanalyst who has been working with dreams for over 20 years I cannot agree with McCauley that Ubu has less structure and makes less of a point than dreams.  Much of the power of the play is in its dreamlike nature and process.  Indeed, the whole play can be seen as an extended dream. At one level it is an unrelenting presentation of a shadow side of human nature described in Freudian terms as the negative side of the anal phase of childhood development (anal-sadistic), hence the emphasis on feces.  This critical phase around potty training age is crucial for the individual's sense of self, creativity and relation to authority figures.  Disturbances at this stage leave one scarred in these realms, with anal-retentiveness (the accountant in the play) and sadism (rampant in the play) being two negative consequences.  The “beauty” of this play was its presentation of these shadow elements, including individual, cultural, racial and political dimensions of the theme, in a manner that could be laughed at.  The surreal nature and the “lighter” treatment given by the actors made it possible to boldly explore a domain no one wants to see as part of themselves or their culture.

            Ubu sadistically tortured those around him, but in the end we feel compassion for him because he was himself the most tortured--by his own psyche.  Half of the healing process is being able to realize what one's problem is.  No resolution was offered in the play.  A complex issue of the depth and dimension presented in Ubu takes years of intense psychoanalytical work to resolve at the individual level.  Thank God there is theater with the boldness and ability to present such “un-American” not-good-ending stuff as this.  I wanted to shout "Bravo!" at the end of the performance.  I congratulate UW-M and PTTP for a job excellently done.


Telephone:  Madison: (608) 255-9330 ext. 5

                     Milwaukee: (414) 332-7400

Fax:             (608) 255-7810



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