Exit The King
- by Eugene Ionesco
review by Kerry Ried in Backstage West July
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- Over the past 11 years, EXIT Theatre has presented 18 plays by Eugene
Ionesco. Oddly enough, given the serendipitous workplay inherent in staging
it, this markes the company's first production of Exit The King.
Happily, there are several reason to recommend Ugo Baldassari's version
of this absurdist classic.
- Baldassari's six-member cast plays the pathos of the story perhaps
a bit overtly at times, but I must say that I was both moved and amused
many times while watching the two acts unfold. Stylistically, the play
comes across as a blend of burlesque revue and existential kiddie show
as the end of the 400-year-old reign of King Beringer (Gene Thompson) unfolds.
Clad in a cheap wig, a shower-curtain cloak, and jester's motley (Cindy
Rae's wonderfully inspired costumes and props are a highlight of this production),
Thompson's Beringer strikes me as the epitome of the out-of-place flower
child with delusions of grandeur and a desperate (and entirely human) wish
to live forever, even if that desire is sucking the lifeblood out of his
citizens and his land. The conceit here is that when the play ends, so
will Beringer's life.
- Beringer's two queens, the elegant and coldly realistic Magguerite
(Kathryn Wood) and the dippy, naive Marie (Mollie Peters, wittily costumes
as a Jayne Mansfieldesque confection of womanhood) fight over how and when
to tell the king about his inevitable demise, with the Doctor (John Girot)
siding with Marguerite, and Juliette the servant (Carrie Chantler) and
the Guard (C. Paul Canaday) aligning themselves with Marie. Still, the
conflict here isn't external as much as it is within Beringer himself.
At times sounding like a parody of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross' On Death and
Dying, Beringer bargains, cajoles, and rages. "Why was I born
if it wasn't forever? Damn my parents!" he explodes at one point.
- Ionesco's script touches on themes of immortiality, posterity, reincarnation,
and redemption. That may sound incredibly ponderous, but as Beringer is
literally stripped of the shoddy trappings of power, a minimalist purity,
akin to Beckett's Karpp, begins to emerge. My neighbor grumbled
at the intermission that the show sacrifices too much humor, "which
makes the text banal." but I disagree. What impresses me most about
Baldassari's staging is how well he captures the essence of Ionesco's worldview.
Death - or, more accurately, the awareness of death - is an experience
simultaneously profound and banal, and our methods of accepting and denying
its reality are what create so much of the chaos and humor in life.
- Baldassari's stage pictures do suffer from a certain formal, static
quality, and the performances are a bit ragged at times. Wood is an impressive
presence, with a lovely rich voice, but I lost a few of her lines due to
rushed delivery. And Peters' performance doesn't get much beyond the fleshpot
cartoon we see initially. Chantler and Girot, on the other hand, find many
nice details in their character work, particularly Chantler as the commically
put-upon, downtrodden, yet inexplicably loyal servant. Sarah Shaw's brightly-painted
set addes to the public-access kiddie show aesthetic (Beringer's giant
throne makes him look like Lily Tomlin's Edith Ann). I've always appreciated
the monumentally silly, frantic humor of Ionesco's best work, but this
production showed me the playwright's ability to interweave chaos and stillness,
which by itself is reason enough to see it.
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