Nomadic’s The Bald Soprano is an absurdist riot
Eugene Ionesco’s The Bald Soprano begins with a Mr. and Mrs. Smith sitting in their comfortably decorated London home, a couple that appears as plain and unassuming as their living room decor. They are your typical middle-aged couple that invites their typical middle-aged friends, the Martins, over for dinner. Everything appears normal except for the slightly jilted dialogue; the Smiths are speaking a little too loudly, their pauses are a little too long, and their logic is more than a little unsound. Although slightly unsettled, the audience can take these irregularities in stride until the Martins arrive onstage and everyone is hurled headlong into the Theater of the Absurd.
Recounting the empty exchange between the couples here would be as pointless as it was to sit through in the theater; the characters’ movements are as restless as their speech. The four actors are constantly agitated, switching between the two chairs and sofa arranged on stage. Eventually, the fire chief arrives at the house unannounced and regales his audience with fables from which, as you can guess, there is no message or moral to be derived. Upon leaving, he declares at random, “the bald soprano!” at which point dialogue rapidly deteriorates into a string of non-sequitors and the entirety of the production collapses into a manic confusion of unrelated words and behavior.
The play is, in a word, absurd. In two words, obstinately pointless. When asked about its ultimate purpose, Director Robert Duffley (COL’ 13) replied, “Meaning in The Bald Soprano is like black ice—it tends to slip away from you.” The Romanian playwright Eugene Ionesco had apparently drawn inspiration from the simple language manuals he used to learn English. Through his exercises of memorization and repetition, the canned English phrases and stiff dialogue struck Ionesco as increasingly absurd. One can speculate, therefore, that the play serves as a commentary on the cheapness of contemporary conversation.
Producer Natalie Gallagher (COL’ 13) believes that the play ultimately communicates the “futility of language.” In a literal interpretation of the banality of banter, Ionesco has written a script in which words are exchanged and yet nothing is said. This posed a particular challenge to the actors tasked with the memorization of meaningless lines spoken at random. Arianne Price (SFS’ 15), who played Mrs. Smith, said that improvisation was crucial to the process.
The actors also noted that their characters were extremely difficult to develop in the absence of any kind of meaningful dialogue. As a training exercise during rehearsals, the cast imagined actual, meaningful dialogue between the Smiths and the Martins in order to understand and develop their otherwise inscrutable characters. To enjoy The Bald Soprano, it would seem, both the cast and audience must let go and take a leap into a world dominated by the nonsensical. Though it can frustrate and confound every notion of logic, it turns out that a dive down the rabbit hole can make for some ludicrous fun.
The Bald Soprano opened yesterday at 8 p.m at David Performing Arts Center. The production continues tonight at 8 p.m. and Saturday has two shows at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. After that, there will be 8 p.m. shows daily from Wednesday to Saturday, January 23-26. Tickets are $10 for students and general admission is $12.
Image: Henry Cohen