Prepare to embark on a surrealist odyssey of theatrical absurdity with Benjamin Niespodziany’s remarkable collection of one-act plays, Cardboard Clouds, from X-R-A-Y. This mind-bending piece of work is the definition of what X-R-A-Y is all about. It’s pleasantly uncomfortable, entertaining, and above all else: unforgettable. Benjamin presents the reader with a preface explaining the dreamlike exploration that the reader is about to take part in. It is to be taken in like a medley. Time and sense of space within the pages of this collection are non-existent. Object permanence has no meaning here. It is a shared experience that only belongs to you and you may in fact be the star. Who is to know? The reader can never be sure and this enigmatic author will never tell. 

To be more direct about what lies within these pages: just picture a theater’s audience, seemingly ordinary individuals, who find themselves confronted with a stage staged with a fake theater within. As each one-act play unfolds, minimalist and macabre games of illusions ensue. The lines between spectator and performer, realism and fiction become blurred. Readers are invited to join the small cast of characters in grappling with paradoxes and whimsical dilemmas, making them feel like an integral part of this captivating theatrical experience. The lurid characters available are DEATH, MAGUS, BUSINESS MAN / PAPER MOON, VILLAIN / PAPER SUN, BOY, GIRL, BABY, VARIOUS ANIMALS, VARIOUS MONSTERS, GOD, CAST IN THE AUDIENCE…

Cardboard Clouds weaves together a series of seemingly unconnected vignettes, each one a microcosm of perplexing and whimsical theatricality. As readers delve into every single-paged play, they are immediately transported into an otherworldly realm, where the laws of logic and reason are bent to reveal profound insights into the human condition. Questions like “When will the audience know when to go home” and “Is this all about me” are consistently asked while Niespodziany immerses the reader in a dreamscape that at times feels deeply existential. One can’t help but note the themes of birth, death, and debt abound in this collection, shrouded in absurdist scenarios and playful paradoxes. 

One of the most captivating aspects of Cardboard Clouds is just that. On the surface, one would just note the seamless interplay between the audience and the fake theater on stage. But when truly taken in, you can’t help but feel the characters in each play face predicaments much more similar to our own along with paradoxical dilemmas, forcing readers to question the very nature of existence. This blurred boundary allows the reader to find themselves becoming active participants in the strange world Niespodziany has crafted.

Whilst I typically dislike comparing authors with famed writers in history, I can’t seem to read Benjamin’s literary flair without thinking of authors like André Breton and L. Frank Baum. Like Breton, Niespodziany presents a darkly comedic portrayal of the human experience, riddled with irony and absurdity. Echoes of Baum’s whimsy can be found in the wordplay and surreal situations that challenge conventional logic.

Through Niespodziany’s deceptively simple yet profoundly philosophical prose, readers are prompted to question their own nature and the perceptions of the world around them. The thought-provoking nature of this collection encourages readers to peel back the layers of their own consciousness, embracing the bizarre and the unexplainable. And believe me, there is something bizarre that can be found on every page of this playful collection that X-R-A-Y has keenly embraced. 

The dark, yet comical nature of Niespodziany’s writing and the abstract structure might deter those seeking a narrative that is more direct, but this collection isn’t for them. It’s for those who revel in offbeat and thoughtfully absurd literature. It offers a weirdly rewarding and mind-expanding experience.

That all being said, Cardboard Clouds is an odd tour de force that one rarely sees in today’s literature. Benjamin Niespodziany’s distinct talent and unique vibe are a refuge for all of those trying to escape everything that has made literature stale throughout the years. We now live in a world of post-apocalyptical chaos, aliens, fascism, division, and streaming. This is the kind of writing that is the product of such a time. Welcome it as the reprieve that we all so desperately need and read this enchantingly peculiar collection as soon as possible.


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