Is action that happens offstage as important as that which happens onstage?
When action is onstage, it allows the audience to experience the drama with the characters and it provokes strong emotions as the audience witnesses the climax of the play and the reactions of and effects on the characters. However, if action is offstage, the audience do not see for themselves the events of the play and how the characters adjust themselves to the events, but, this does not mean that these actions are ineffective or unimportant. In fact, it is just the opposite. ‘The Cherry Orchard’ by Anton Chekhov and ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ by Tennessee Williams are two plays in which the main actions occur offstage, but the impact on the audience created by them is immense. In ‘The Cherry Orchard’, the offstage actions include Madame Ranevsky’s past where she lost her husband and her son drowned as a child. Madame Ranevsky is of an upper middle class but she is in decline, she is losing her estate but she is passive and does nothing to keep it. Her passivity leads to another action, the climax of the play which is also offstage, in which the estate is sold on auction. In ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’, the offstage action includes the Blanche’s (protagonist) past where she lost her husband, her home, Belle Reve, the dismissal of her job and her promiscuity. Also, the rape of Blanche in scene 10, while her sister Stella is giving birth is offstage.
Both the female protagonists, Mme R. and Blanche have sorrowful pasts which are only revealed to the audience through the later course of the play. The death of Mme’s husband and son is revealed by the conversation between her two daughters in act 1: ‘It’s just six years since papa died. And only a month afterwards poor little Grisha was drowned’, this offstage action is important as it develops the audience’s empathy for this character. It also shows why she is nostalgic about her past and longs keep her estate as it is where she lived...
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