Annals of Theater: Absurdité
Written by Bwog Staff
This afternoon and at 8 PM tonight, the CU players present Absurdité, a two hour-long presentation of three short plays by Christopher Durang and one by Eugene Ionesco. The performances of the four plays surpass mere tributes. Showing remarkable creative vision, the four directors produced innovative adaptations of Durang and Ionesco’s works and successfully guided their casts through the murky territories of these renowned absurdists.
Making the most of the overwhelming space the Roone Arledge Auditorium offers, the CU Players seated the audience between the curtain and a screen set further back on the stage, and skillfully imitated the atmosphere of a black box theater.
The festival began with an appropriately absurd welcome by Sam West, CC ‘08, as the charmingly perplexed master of ceremonies. The structure of his introduction took the form of a letter to his mother in which he awkwardly struggled to articulate the meaning behind the ridiculous plays. The audience, which was primarily comprised of undergrads and parents, easily identified with West’s strained efforts and delighted in his halting prose and illogical asides.
West’s introductions set the tone for the four depictions of ridiculousness that the subsequent performances offered. The title of the first short play, “The Hardy Boys and the Mystery of Where Babies Come From,” directed by Sam Reisman CC ‘10 and Jeff Julian CC ‘08, indicates the humor that typifies Durang’s work—reliance on pop culture references and glib word play. The situations he devises are bizarrely implausible, and this rendition of “The Hardy Boys” at times verges on gimmicky. The play is most successful when the lines are delivered with deadpan remove. At times Jake Green gives a more tentative performance as Frank Hardy, Austin Mitchell SEAS ‘08 as Joe Hardy and Jason Resnikoff CC’08 as Mr. Hardy engage in their parts confidently and thoroughly. Both Resnikoff and Mitchell accept the absurdity inherent in Durang’s script as realities. Their straight-faced performances gives nuance to Durang’s vapid humor and encourage the audience to take a risk and accept his absurdity as truth.
The restrain that gives Mitchell and Resnikoff’s performance their bite is harder to find in “Medea,” directed by Beck Pryor. Nonetheless, the trio of toga-clad Greek choristers chants their lines with remove and impressive timing, highlighting Pyror’s directorial eye. Despite her booming voice, Kris Wiener’s performance as Medea was not strong enough to carry the weight of the play. Perhaps it was due to the small stage, but Wiener’s speech overshadowed her movement and created a disconnect between the play’s auditory and visual effect. But her prayers—and possibly the audience’s—were answered in the form of the bare-chested and winged David Gerson, as a rather hairy angel ex machina who delivered his lines with charming poise.
The first act ends, quite literally, with a bang. Nick Bazzano’s direction of “A Stye of the Eye” takes Durang’s rambling script and shapes it into a fast-paced, sharp comedy. Switching off between dulcet platitudes and crude expletives, Jason Resnikoff gives another impressive performance as a skitzophrenic hillbilly. Under Bazzano’s direction, the play’s disparate elements come together in a hilariously quirky way. A play within play spontaneously begins and is one of the most entertaining and directorially innovative elements of “Stye.” A stage slowly rises and provides new space for this meta-drama. Here, Lily Feinn plays a chain-smoking therapist and interrogates a cross-dressing, tongues-speaking Nun, played by an unsettlingly effeminate Austin Mitchell. The play tears on with references to incest, murdered lambs and bloody underpants. Despite its irreverence, Bazzano’s play gleans some substance from Durang’s vacuous script as the characters grapple to make sense of their existence in an absurd world.
Abby Broberg’s “The New Tenant” presents an entirely different take on absurdist theater. If you leave before the second act, you’ll miss the more subtle and challenging aspects of this genre. Broberg directs her actors skillfully through Ionesco’s dense script. As a cockney landlady, Pardis Dabashi delivers her ranting monologue with impressive consistency. In contrast to Dabashi’s colorful performance, Hal Scardino plays the typical British introvert. The two complement perfectly and suggest a universal struggle to communicate. The play builds steadily and finishes with an impressive staging that pushes the limits of creativity and control.
All in all the cast and directors of Absurdite provided memorable performances of difficult works. Under the guidance of enterprising directors, each of the four performances made the most of intentionally unintelligible plays and made the audience laugh—which after all is all that really matters.