Thursday, November 19, 2009

"Bald Soprano": Comme C'est Absurde et Quelle Production

The Bald Soprano at Cutting Ball Theater (San Francisco's specialists in absurdism) has just been extended until mid-December! I saw the play tonight, and thought that I would have to blog about it in my typical "it's-great-but-it's-closing-sorry-I-didn't-see-it-sooner" fashion. But then I learned of the extension--so, congrats to Cutting Ball for a great start to their 10th anniversary season, and as for the rest of you--now's your chance to get tickets to the added performances before they sell out!

Being an absurdist play--lots of non sequitur dialogue, few stage directions--The Bald Soprano is very open to directorial interpretation. I've heard of productions that fill it with vaudeville-type gags or ones that turn it into a parody of English people and customs. It seemed that one of the goals of the Cutting Ball production was to strip away several of these "conceptual" layers and just let the text and the humor come through. I mean, of course the director, Rob Melrose, put his own ideas into it (he is also responsible for the new translation) but the stage was painted a flat yellow-orange, there weren't any props, there was no attempt to suggest "England."

It's funny: even though the text is so absurd and should offer no clues as to when the play takes place, it still seems a product of the 1950s--and it couldn't take place in the present day. In one scene, the Smiths' doorbell keeps ringing, but when someone gets up and answers the door, no one is there. It is interesting that Mr. Smith justs assumes that Mrs. Smith will answer the door, because she is a woman and the hostess--and he gets offended when Mrs. Smith suggests that he should do it himself. Perfect 1950s gender roles, in other words. It's weird how much of this kind of thing gets revealed in a text that is supposedly "meaningless." But then, The Bald Soprano was always meant to present a skewed version of our society and the language we use (as opposed to a fantasy of a completely different universe), so no wonder the mores of the time it was written show up in its subtext...

I liked how the actors found the subtext they needed, too, and how each of them created a distinct comic persona. Mrs. Smith the perky hostess, capable of saying any of Ionesco's dialogue with a straight face; Mr. Smith more voluble than his wife, jumping on furniture in frustrated bourgeois rage; Mrs. Martin the nervous younger woman, always uncertain of how to behave; and Mr. Martin placidly smiling, trying to calm his wife down.

I saw the show with a French friend, who said that she had never seen a production of the play, but that one of the oft-repeated lines from the show has passed into French parlance and tonight she finally learned where it was from. In the famous scene between Mr. and Mrs. Martin, they keep saying "Comme c'est curieux ! Comme c'est bizarre! et quelle coïncidence !" ("How curious it is, how bizarre, and what a coincidence!") as the realization slowly dawns on them that they are husband and wife. Evidently this is now a famous quote among French people.

(I just thought--is the Mr. and Mrs. Martin scene intended as a parody of all of those "recognition" scenes of classical Greek drama, where Electra recognizes Orestes by his birthmark, etc.?)

Tonight the theater was mostly filled with a crowd of high-school students from Marin. They were an encouragingly enthusiastic crowd, a few of them laughing to the point of having fits, and everyone going nuts (as high-schoolers do) when the maid and the fireman started making out. At the end of the show, Cutting Ball raffled off a bottle of wine and naturally, one of the teenagers won it. Which just goes to show that life does have its absurdities.


Jason_M said...

Saw the show on last w/e and linked here from Cutting Ball fb page. Nice review. Loved the dance elements in the staging. Really one of the best theater experiences ever in SF.

Marissa said...

Thanks, Jason. Cutting Ball is great... actually, I've recently joined their literary committee, so I guess I can no longer be objective about this theater company! And you see that there's an article about them in the new "American Theater" magazine?