I'm not sure how many people frequent the theater with the idea of having "one hell of a good time." Typically, it seems, our motives for entering a dark room to watch live actors play out scenes that could or could not happen in real life are more thoughtful, more meaningful, if you will.
For some reason, we think that if we're going to the theater, then our intentions must be to learn something, to gain some sort of understanding about ourselves, our environment or the human condition. We expect a lot from theatre, more so than we do from film or music, probably.
Well, if you're going to see the Theatre Club's second run of Eugene Ionesco's absurdist works The Bald Soprano and The Lesson, you can check your intentions at the door. You're here to have a good time.
Scott Heberling chose the two plays by one of the foremost playwrights of the Theatre of the Absurd, saying, "I believe these plays address a fundamental truth about language, logic, the manipulation and corruption of both and their effect on the human person-- or the dehumanization of the person.
"Especially in an election season, when political rhetoric is at its height and so much of it is, quite simply, the manipulation of thought through words, I think these plays speak the loudest."
But remember, try not to think about it too much.
Heberling directs The Bald Soprano, Ionesco's first-ever work, which opens in Mr. and Mrs. Smith's (Craig Walter and Billie Sue Thompson) home as their grandfather clock chimes an irrelevant number of times. Mrs. Smith declares it is 9pm and begins spouting off giddy, nonsensical sentences about what they've had for dinner that evening and which local grocer stocks the best oil as she knits.
Mr. Smith, dressed in his bathrobe and slippers, appears to be ignoring her, the sports section of the paper held closely to his face. He punctuates her erratic phrases with clucks and other random mouth-made noises.
When he finally responds to her with words, they are only loosely related to what she's saying. It's as though one's thought inspires the other's, but rather than engage in an exchange of thought, they take turn saying whatever is on their minds. Every so often, the grandfather clock chimes.
The Maid (Susan Webb) enters and, after a bit of blabbering of her own, announces that Mr. and Mrs. Martin (Heath Crofut and George Romero) have come for a dinner party.
While the couple waits for Mr. and Mrs. Smith to dress for dinner, they carry on an exchange from across the room as though they've never met before in their lives. This was probably my favorite scene in the play. Mr. Smith tells her she looks familiar, like someone he's seen before, and they discover they are from the same town, arrived in London at he same time and on the same train, live in the same flat and have the same daughter. But still, they cannot figure out where they've met one another.
The Fire Chief arrives, looking for a fire and, finding none, he and the two couples take turns telling silly stories and nonsensical poems until it is time for the Fire Chief to depart. Before he leaves, he declares, "The bald soprano!," pointing to Mrs. Smith's ball of yarn, which has been sitting in the middle of the floor for almost the entire show. Everyone becomes quite upset at what the Chief has just said, and it prompts Mrs. Smith to answer, "She always wears her hair the same way."
The lights go down and the grandfather clock chimes.
This time, Mr. and Mrs. Martin sit reading the paper and knitting, and Mrs. Martin begins the whole thing over again, reciting the same lines Mrs. Smith did at the show's beginning.
So what's the point? The theme here is assumed to be the futility of communication in modern society. But the real, point, perhaps is not to "get" the theme, but to have a good time watching the play arrive to it. Certainly there were no shortage of laughs here, especially at the show's beginning, but the lulls and awkward pauses in conversation could have taken their tolls on an audience already exhausted by what it was observing.
In the second show, The Lesson, Heberling is a wiry, black-haired professor whose wardrobe looks to be inspired by Mr. Rogers. His maid (Webb again) has just ushered into his home a young student (Samantha Lake) dressed in a too-short plaid skirt, her hair in pigtails. She has come eager to learn and one can only wonder what the professor has in store to teach her.
In the beginning, she seems like a bright student, and the professor praises her for answering his silly questions correctly and she responds by coming onto him forcefully.
When it comes to addition, the student is proficient, but she just can't seem to master the difficult subject of subtraction. As her ineptness increases, so does the professor's temper and he screams at her frequently. His harshness causes her a toothache, which for the remainder of the lesson, is all she can focus on.
The maid makes several attempts to warn the professor not to get himself too worked up, and every time the professor shoos her away and continues to berate his student until, of course, the lesson ends, rather messily.
The majority of this play depends on Heberling and Lake's chemistry and comedic timing, and I would say they were both spot on. I laughed throughout the entire production, and the quickness of its pace, compared to the previous show, helped me lose myself in the story.
Both are good pieces, though, well-performed and directed. I do wish, though, in The Lesson, that I had been able to see both characters more clearly throughout the show. For much of the performance they sat facing one another at a round table, and while I had a plain view of Heberling's face, I spent much of the hour staring at the back of Lake's head.
And now you don't have to worry too much about "getting it"; I've already told you what the plays are about. You can just have a good time.
"With any absurdist work," Heberling told me, "my advice is not to go so much with the intention of 'getting it' but with the intention of allowing yourself to enter into that world and simply have a good time with it.
"I've always thought of it as somewhat mercurial-- the more you analyze and think about it, the more the point slips away. Part of the point of these works is laughing at ourselves, with the emphasis on laughing."
I would encourage anyone looking for a good time to show up at Nightingale Theater, 1416 E. 4th St., November 13 through 15 at 8pm. Tickets are $10; you can call 557-8012 for reservations.
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