Legend has it that Eugene Ionesco was so taken by the phrase book when he tried to learn English that he decided to create a play, originally to be named L’anglais sans peine (or English without toil ), in honor of the strange dialogues the Assimil method offered.
“The Bald Soprano”, on stage at the Pearl Theatre Company’s home at City Center Stage II, through October 23rd, is a rare sighting in the United States. (Since 1957, it has been performed at the Théâtre de la Huchette so it has become one of the most frequently staged plays in France.)
As a playwright, Ionesco revels in the absurdity that comes out of (mis)communication. He is one of the premiere proponents of the theater of the absurd. The genre comes out of existentialism, and is meant to be nihilistic and gloomy. In Ionesco’s hands, it is genial and cheerfully good-natured.
The text in “The Bald Soprano” resembles more a conversation between Burns and Allen than one with Jean Paul Sartre or Camus.
The Smiths, an ordinary couple, enjoying an after dinner chat, talk at cross purposes as if everything they say is lost in translation. Mrs. Smith (Rachel Botchan) rattles on about what they had for dinner. She seems to be reciting the menu by rote. Mr. Smith (Bradford Cover) grunts and reads his paper.
Bradford Cover as Mr. Smith and Rachel Botchan as Mrs. Smith Photos by Jacob J. Goldberg
The dynamic between words and meaning, and even identity and meaning, seems to be lost. Nothing and everything is what it seems. The Fire Chief (Dan Daily) is hunting fires, and invites Mrs. Smith to confide in him as if he were her confessor, as he puts it. The play, like its title, is judiciously absurd.
Jolly Abraham as Mrs. Martin and Rachel Botchan as Mrs. Smith Photos by Jacob J. Goldberg
The Martins, (Brad Heberlee and Jolly Abraham) who come to visit the Smiths, recognize each other by all the coincidences of where they live, the child they each have, etc. but Mary (Robin Leslie Brown), the Smith’s meddlesome maid, interrupts to let us know that despite the coincidence of same domicile they are not who they think they are.
Dan Daily as The Fire Chief and Robin Leslie Brown as Mary Photos by Jacob J. Goldberg
The production, directed by Hal Brooks, paces itself to savor all the incongruity in the text. “The Bald Soprano” offers a welcome touch of life and confusion to the Fall theater season.
Heir to Ionesco?
Adam Rapp has a much darker absurdist vision in his new play, “Dreams of Flying Dreams of Falling”.
“Dreams of Flying Dreams of Falling”, on stage at Classic Stage Company in an Atlantic Theater production through October 30th, skewers reality with subtle hints that everything is awry.
There are Canada geese falling like large hail from the skies, which are an unhealthy color. The predatory Sandra (Christine Lahti) flirts pornographically with her husband’s, Dr. Bertram Cabot’s (Reed Birney) old college chum, Dirk Von Stofenberg (Cotter Smith) even before her husband leaves the room.
Reed Birney as Bert, Christine Lahti as Sandra, Cotter Smith as Dirk, Betsy Aidem as Celeste, Shane McRae as James, and Katherine Waterston as Cora Photos by Kevin Thomas Garcia
Dirk and his wife Celeste (Betsy Aidem) are at the Cabots to celebrate their son James’s (Shane McRae) release from a psychiatric institution.
The Cabots daughter, Cora (Katherine Waterston) flirts with James while the parents are touring the reconstructed basement.
Wilma (Quincy Tyler Bernstine), the family’s live in maid from Red Hook, walks in on James and Cora. Wilma takes it in her stride; nothing seems out of the ordinary in this household or in this play. For instance, it’s a kind of play on the concept of a French maid, that Wilma is expected to serve drinks and dinner in French, under the auspices of Sandra, who bullies everyone with equal joie de vivre.
Shane McRae as James, and Katherine Waterston as Cora Photos by Kevin Thomas Garcia
“Dreams of Flying Dreams of Falling” adds a malignant twist to its comedy. The actors all acquit themselves well but Christine Lahti’s vicious Sandra, is a rare treat; she is deadly serious and very very funny. Her behavior surprises but does not shock even in this staid Connecticut setting.
“Dreams of Flying Dreams of Falling” soars.
For performance schedule and to learn more about the Atlantic Theater Company, go to http://www.atlantictheater.org/
For more information on The Pearl Theater Company, visit http://www.pearltheatre.org/