Directed by Stuart Bousel
Movement Direction: Margery Fairchild
King Berenger is a 400 year old narcissist who has traded his old wife in for a new and has lost sight of what truly matters. However, neither his second wife’s cloying love, his first wife’s harsh truths, his servants’ devotion, nor his quacky doctor can save him from demise.
I saw the play last night, which was raucous good fun, complete with an audience that laughed most of the night. It is worth watching but prepare yourself for a certain style in which you will not have an intermission and it will be fairly long. But that’s okay, just bring snacks!
Here’s the thing about Ionesco that I realized: you can read the plays and they’re fascinating but it isn’t until you actually watch it that his plays seem to be like a body of water. They have ripples, they have waves, they move constantly, there is very little stillness or down-to-earth moments. The gravitational pull from one character to another: this play is full of one-on-one moments between characters that are filled with emotional uproars, chiding, and brutal honesty which reminds me of scenes from Rhinocerous that are also great.
Stuart Bousel talks about directing the play in the interview posted below which provides more in-depth analysis of the play itself. Stuart did an excellent job directing, having plunged into the deep with not a lot to see. I say that because Ionesco loves to challenge anyone holding his script. However, it does seem possible to come out of it feeling revived and with a lot less worry about mortality, or stuff in general, which feels fresh to me!
As Stuart touched on in our talk, the piece would not have stayed afloat without the movement direction by Margery Fairchild, who did a stellar job in creating choreographed movements that felt so natural to the characters that it was hard to find the seams between what was staged and what may have been instinctual. I enjoyed that aspect because though the play feels quite lyrical at times it was still nice to have such seamless transitions.
The relentlessness of this fun-filled yet sometimes dark and stormy sea is what makes the play so engaging, but also makes it a challenge. The challenge to me is not for the audience as much, because Ionesco actually does know how to entertain them while still spooning them a few bitter vegetables of truth and whatnot. No, the challenge is for a director and the actors who all, in this case, delivered very seasoned and thought-out characters with great physicality and impressive intensity.
The overall challenge is keeping the momentum going at all times. They are all making high-frequency ripples of their own, which are needed in this format. There is no mistake that a vaudevillian sensibility lies in this piece, as Geoffrey Rush touched on in an interview regarding his portrayal of the king in the Broadway revival production. That vaudevillian sensibility means there is going to be slapstick, physical theatre, slight-of-hand, and a heightened style of acting, which some might say is too much, but I enjoyed. There is no room for flatness here. The actors’ grasp and commitment to this idea seems to keep the audience deeply entertained. Yes, Ionesco is entertaining you in a grand old style, while injecting you with Modernist thought.
As long as they keep doing what they’re doing, this will be a memorable and successful revival.
*please excuse the static, we are busy, remote-style people.
Watch Ionesco call Sartre a political poseur here: