This semester’s first staged reading was held on March 5 in the Robert E. Sinclair Theatre. The reading, directed by sophomore Josh Shabshis, was Eugène Ionesco’s absurdist play “The Bald Soprano.” The play explores communication—or lack thereof—as well as deep struggle, and Shabshis and his cast captured this feeling perfectly.
Ionesco based his play on a French-to-English phrasebook that he found to be absolutely ridiculous. Many lines of dialogue—especially the climactic argument—are ripped directly from the book and include phrases such as, “Don’t say they’re there, I hear they’re here,” and “The floor is down, the ceiling is up.”
The nonsense of these phrases presented an interesting challenge to the actors, who had to figure out how to derive meaning from the meaningless—which is sort of the point.
During the talkback after the performance, Shabshis explained, “As the actors soldier on to get to the end of the play, it’s almost a metaphor of how all of us soldier on to get through life, because it’s so hard and confusing, and we tend to get lost.” This confusion doesn’t end with the mostly gibberish dialogue the actors exchange, but extends to the audience as well.
After the play was finished once, the stage cut to black. The play was performed a second time—but with the actors playing opposite roles. Sophomore Oliver Diaz and junior Samantha Clowes started the play as the intentionally generic Mr. and Mrs. Smith, but on the second run-through, the parts were played by the original Mr. and Mrs. Martin—junior Nolan Parker and Sophomore Olivia Knowlden. The cast was rounded out by sophomores Robbie Held and James Fenimore Cooper III as the Emcee and the Fire Captain, respectively, and senior Jes Kirkpatrick as Mary the maid.
It’s tough to sit through a play that doesn’t make sense once, but the second time was even more difficult—especially now that the novelty of the non-sequiturs had worn off. Just ask the guy next to me who mumbled under his breath, “Oh god, no,” when a particularly long monologue by the Fire Captain was about to begin. Or ask the 15 people who streamed out of the theater when they realized what was about to happen. Luckily, Shabshis was prepared for this.
“I told [the actors] to just keep going no matter what,” he said. “I chose this [play] because it’s a challenge for the audience as well … You can’t just stand up and say, ‘Screw this.’ Well, some people did, but that’s not the point.”
While it may have been tough for the actors to figure out how to play their roles, Shabshis’ ability to figure out how to communicate to the audience––and even just for the audience to stick around–– really did reflect the struggles of life. As absurd as “The Bald Soprano” was, there was a method to its particular kind of madness after all.
Correction: The article titled "Student director stages absurdist drama" published in the March 26 issue of The Lamron stated that junior Jordan Keane played the part of Mrs. Martin. Sophomore Olivia Knowlden actually played Mrs. Martin.