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Eugene Ionesco: The Bald Soprano: A Christmas Anti-Play

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November 1, 2012—December 23, 2012

LA Weekly Pick of the Week -- GO!

Translated & Adapted by Frédérique Michel and Charles A. Duncombe
Directed by Frédérique Michel
Produced by Charles A. Duncombe
Cast: Jeff Atik, Mitchell Colley, David E. Frank, Lena Kay, Cynthia Mance, Bo Roberts, Kenneth Rudnicki
matinee, please join us for an informal discussion with the cast and creative staff behind The Bald Soprano.


PICK OF THE WEEK GO – LA Weekly: Even after 60 years and counting, Eugene Ionesco's classic absurdist farce is still one of France's most popular and frequently produced plays. And as director Frédérique Michel demonstrates in this steadfastly enjoyable revival, it's still good for a load of laughs. The opening tableau reveals a middle-aged Parisian couple, the Smiths (Jeff Atik, David E. Frank in drag, skillfully blending impertinence and camp), relaxing at home. She decorates the Christmas tree and discusses banal details about dinner, while he responds with outbursts of guttural gibberish from behind a newspaper. Things turn even more bizarre with the arrival of Mr. and Mrs. Martin (Bo Roberts, Cynthia Mance) -- who initially don't seem to even know each other -- and a loquacious Fire Chief (Mitchell Colley). The evening gradually segues into a frenetic outbreak of meaningless chatter, jarring non sequiturs, grade-school storytelling and oddball silliness, all of which Michel and her cast (which includes Lena Kay as a ditzy maid) serve up with impeccable comedic skill and élan. Ionesco satirizes middle-class manners and banality, and at the same time constructs a dramatic environment where logic, language and reality are wittily disassociated, and therein is the fun and laughs in the piece. Cast performances under Michel's direction are first-rate. (Lovell Estell III)


Critic's Score: A – Backstage: Just in time for the banal bantering, household hopping, and gourmet gorging about to fill our holiday platters, City Garage gives us a remounting of its 2007 production of Eugène Ionesco’s absurdist classic “The Bald Soprano,” newly subtitled as “A Christmas Anti-Play.” The setting has been relocated to the suburbs of Paris in a new translation by Frédérique Michel and Charles A. Duncombe. Presented with an oddball reverence and dripping with mid-20th-century style, the production is a real treat.

Directed by Michel, “The Bald Soprano” opens with a scene of stunningly skewed retro domesticity on Duncombe’s picture-perfect setting. David E. Frank is in hostess apparel as a suitably manic Mrs. Smith, trimming the tree and setting the world aright one nail-polish color at a time as the clock strikes 17, while Jeff Atik’s squat Mr. Smith, sporting an eye-catching leopard smoking jacket, is lost in his newspaper. (Meow for Josephine Poinsot’s spot-on costumes.) The couple’s oblique cat-and-mouse games soon take the form of inane, circular, loaded conversations, and the actors are more than up to the challenge.

When the Smith’s dinner guests finally arrive, the addition of the nervously cheerful Martins (Cynthia Mance and Bo Roberts) raises our expectations. We can’t wait to find out what’s really behind the awkward social moments, painful forced smiles, and desperate need to find some element of excitement in everyday life. But of course we never really do, despite the efforts of the acerbic maid Marie (Lena Kay) to set everyone straight and an unexpected diversion from the Fire Chief (Kenneth Rudnicki) during a most fortuitous visit.

This is only the second production in City Garage’s spiffy new performance space, and it’s wonderful to see this dependably outrageous company stretch out and get a bit more breathing room. Michel seems right at home, directing with a customarily sure hand and careful attention to detail, choreographing each movement and sound onstage. Duncombe’s lighting and Paul M Rubenstein’s sound add more polished layers.

Kudos to the solid company of performers, who are savvy enough to trust Michel and the material and get full mileage out of everything they collectively bring to the party. There’s a particularly hilarious moment involving a Santa hat. Especially if you’ve got a taste for the absurd, this is one of those holiday gatherings you won’t want to miss. (Jennie Webb)


**** (4-stars) – Total Theater: City Garage successfully revisits its 2007 production of The Bald Soprano, the famous absurdist comedy by Eugene Ionesco. City Garage's French-born artistic director Frederique Michel is an Ionesco specialist, as this production proves yet again.

Working from her own English translation/adaptation, Michel sets the story at Christmas time (hence the play's new subtitle). On view are a Dali-esque Christmas tree, an upside down clock, and a parking meter, with Santa and the elves suspended overhead in a toy gondola. Otherwise, the living room of Mr & Mrs Smith looks perfectly normal, elegant and bourgeois (kudos to set designer Charles Duncombe).

Ionesco's maniacal assault on all things suburban -- language, logic and family -- begins with Mrs. Smith, herself. Played in drag by David E. Frank, she babbles mindlessly about banal things, while Mr Smith (Jeff Atik) sits reading a business newspaper and mouthing non sequiturs in a largely incomprehensible tongue. Then a young couple, the Martins (Cynthia Mance and Bo Roberts), arrive and, after some desultory small talk, discover that they are married to each other.

Other bizarre characters include a cheeky and sexy French maid (Lena Kay) and a fire chief (Mitchel Colley, alternating with Kenneth Rudnicki). Their disconnected and ditzy dialogue is punctuated with the tolling of bells and clocks and the crowing of unseen roosters. The cast delivers Ionesco's mad little play easily and stylishly (having served in Michel's ensemble for many years, they know how to give the director exactly what she wants).

The Bald Sopranois fresh and funny this time around, but it left me wishing City Garage had put a second Ionesco play on the bill. (Willard Manus)

Translators/Adaptors    Frédérique Michel & Charles Duncombe