Martin Esslin, the critic and author whose 1961 book, "The Theater of the Absurd," is a staple on the shelf of any student of drama, died Feb. 24 in London, The New York Times reported.
The study of Beckett, Genet, Ionesco and other playwrights who bucked conventional characters, plots and forms is considered the first and still most valuable book about how international theatre in the 20th century evolved during and after World War II. He coined the term "theatre of the absurd." In his book, which discussed how new writers were reflecting the chaos and randomness of the world in their scripts, Mr. Esslin wrote that then-newcomers Edward Albee and Harold Pinter were part of the absurdist tradition; both writers would become major international playwrights, their works flecked with mystery and hyper-real elements.
Mr. Esslin was 83 and had battled Parkinson's Disease. His other books include "Brecht: The Man and His Work," "The Field of Drama," "The Anatomy of Drama," "The Peopled Wound: The Work of Harold Pinter," "Artaud" and "The Age of Television."
He was born Julius Pereszlenyi on June 6, 1918, in Budapest in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, according to the Stanford Report at Stanford University, where he was a professor emeritus of drama. He attended the University of Vienna, where he studied philosophy and English and studied stage direction at Vienna's Reinhardt Seminar of Dramatic Art.
His academic work was halted when the Nazis occupied Austria, and he fled to Brussels and England. The Stanford Report said he found work with the BBC Monitoring Service, assuming the post of program assistant and producer for the German Service in London. He became a naturalized British citizen and changed his name to Martin Julius Esslin. In 1947, he married Renate Gerstenberg.
For many years Mr. Esslin was a BBC radio producer who had a vision for creating a "national theatre of the air" in the 1960s. He produced hundreds of plays, including new-to-England European works that he translated and directed himself.
Mr. Esslin retired from the BBC in 1977, the same year he joined the Stanford faculty.
"He was very open and helpful to students," Ron Davies, the drama department administrator who earned a doctorate in drama at Stanford, told the Stanford Report. "His big class at Stanford was Drama 2, which was held in the Little Theater, now Pigott Theater. It was a 10 AM class, and he would just tell the story of drama, without any notes or prepared texts. He would just launch in. He had a wonderful way of retelling the plot of a play, distilling the action and what was interesting or unusual about it."
Mr. Esslin appeared at Stanford in summer 2001 to speak at a symposium titled "Fool's Gold — Ionesco and the Theater of the Absurd."
He also taught at Florida State University. He is survived by his wife and daughter.