The Bald Soprano
Review by Tulis McCall
(26 Sep 2011)
To say this is an excellent production does not do it justice. Hal Brooks and his extraordinary cast have done exactly what they should - they have gotten out of the way of the text and let Ionesco run the show.
According to the director, the idea for this play came from the phrase books that Ionesco studied to help him learn English. The people depicted therein appeared not to know one another well even though they were married, or neighbors or what have you. That seed exploded exponentially to become The Bald Soprano.
There is something transcendent in scripts that force you to let go. Beckett does this of course, but his is a bit trickier ground. Ionesco, in this play, gently invites you into a sitting room where clocks strike 17 times and husbands and wives do not recognize one another. Then he sprinkles in the contradictions and abnormalities as if they were a game of Pickup Sticks set to cover the characters from head to toe.
Mr. & Mrs. Smith (Bradford Cover and Rachel Botchan) are having a quiet evening. She lets words fall out of her mouth like unrelated chunks of the alphabet, "Yogurt is excellent for the stomach, the kidneys, the appendicitis and the apotheosis." Mr. Smith punctuates her monologue with clicks of the tongue. When he does finally speak it is of doctors who should die with their patients and brings up that family of Watsons, all of whom were called Bobby.
Soon the expected and unexpected guests, the Martins (Brad Heberlee and Jolly Abraham) arrive. Neither recognizes the other until they plow through their credentials and discover they are indeed married, whereupon Mr. Martin says, "Darling, let's forget all that has not passed between us, and, now that we have found each other again, let's try not to lose each other anymore, and live as before." Enter Mary the maid, Robin Leslie Brown) to offer another view of this situation, and finally The Fire Chief (Dan Daily) who is looking for a fire to extinguish and comes equipped with stories to tell. It is Odd Bits 10 and Normal Bits 1.
Many authors try to have people talking to one another and not connecting, but Ionesco raises this to a new art form. These are six people who have convinced themselves that they are communication when, to the observer, nothing remotely like communication is happening. This does not stop them however. It is we who are the visitors to this particular English living room in the English house in the English town.
The play is of course a mirror that would be painful to watch were it not for the gentle touch that Hal Books brings and the refined work of all these actors. This is a sort of verbal ballet, and if one person misses a step the entire mélange would collapse in a heap. Thankfully no one does. So watching the embarrassing truth about our own selves (and this play was written 60 years ago) is medicine we can swallow. There is an odd spoonful of sugar mixed into the magic that is this production. It makes the bull's-eye painted on our collective foreheads hurt not quite so much when The Bald Soprano scores a direct hit.
What the popular press said...
"The musical banter of the dialogue in this staging is deliriously silly fun."
Jason Zinoman for New York Times
"Feels like a studious school project."
Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post
"Even functioning at less than full volume, the production garners numerous and sizable laughs, and it's well worth your time and attention.
Erik Haagensen for Back Stage
External links to full reviews from popular press...
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