Monday, February 27, 2012

TRAPS by Friedrich Duerrenmatt

Swiss author and playwright Friedrich Durrenmatt (1921-1990) is most famous as the author of the deservedly revered play The Visit (1956), a glorious black comedy in which a fabulously wealthy woman returns to her home town and offers a fantastic sum for the life of the man who got her pregnant and cast her aside, causing her to fall into a life of prostitution. (Until she marries a rich man, etc.) It's a great exploration of issues like greed, justice, retribution, and feminism, as well as wickedly and darkly funny.

This was another recommendation from Marvin Kaye, and I have to say that he redeems himself with this. Traps was originally published in 1956 as Die Panne (literally, "A Dangerous Game") and is a great example of Durrenmatt's style and wit. In fact, it could very easily be turned into a play.

Alfredo Traps, a traveling textile salesman, experiences an auto accident in a small town, presumably in Switzerland although it could be Germany or Austria or anywhere else. The one hotel is packed full, and he is recommended to go ask a local man with a large house if he can be put up as a guest.

Well, the local guy is more than willing to put him up, and even invites him to a lavish dinner that night. And it comes out that the host is a former judge, and the other guests include lawyers, prosecutors, and a former hangman! And over dinner, they go full-force into a game in which Traps is subjected to interrogation in a mock trial over dinner. Out comes Traps' ambition, his philandering, his callousness, and then the question is raised...was his business rival's death a mere accident? Or did Traps murder him by carefully manipulating events?

It's brief; the paperback I got from the library is only 122 pages long, and is a quick read. On the surface, this reads like a good thriller play, perhaps an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. In fact, it's been filmed multiple times: in 1957 as an episode of the old American TV series Suspicion, in 1971 in India as the movie Shantata! Court Chalu Aahe! (or "Silence! The Court is in Session!"), and in '72 in Italy as the movie La piu bella serata della mia vita (literally, "The most beautiful night of my life"), and perhaps a few other times that I wasn't able to track down. The plot about the oblivious, arrogant, self-absorbed Traps (and boy, is that name symbolic!) being caught in a web by the seemingly jovial men around him is classic stuff...but then a little ambiguity is raised, and the reader is left wondering if it's just a case of a late-blooming conscience.

On a deeper level, it really came across to me as an indictment of the ruthless ambition that's a product of our industrialized, corporatized world, and of the destructiveness than can result when selfish people go after their own good with no regard for how it affects others. I guess this falls into Hannah Arendt's description of "the banality of evil."

This is good zesty stuff that still reads well today. If you can get your hands on it, read it. Some enterprising publisher should dust off some Durrenmatt and make an omnibus edition available. Anyone out there, hm?


Anonymous said...

TRAPS was also filmed for British television in 1982 as THE DEADLY GAME. Robert Morley, Trevor Howard, and George Segal as the hapless salesman. I seem to recall that Segal's character was far more sympathetic than you've described in the blog, so perhaps they made some changes.

Vagrarian said...

Thanks for the info, and yeah, sounds like they made some changes! I'm still disappointed no publisher has put out a Durrenmatt omnibus.

TunnelVision said...

"The Dangerous Game" by Durrenmatt has been beautifully adopted in a Hindi play, "Abhiyukt" (The Culprit) by writer/dramatist/director/actor par excellence, Late S. Vasudev.

"Abhivykti Theater Group", Jaipur, India, has been performing it since 12 January 1987.

The most recent performance was on 4th June, 2015, at Jawahar Kala Kendra, Jaipur, India.

In "Abhiyukt", the writer- Late S. Vasudev has created a timeless drama of complex contemporary social realities.

The play Abhiyukt is admirably adopted through nuanced-flawless Hindi dialogues,robust Indian idioms, context and references from, "A Dangerous Game", a 1956 novel by Swiss Writer Friedrich Durrenmatt.