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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at The Pearl Theatre Company at City Center


  Jolly Abraham and Rachel Botchan/ Ph: Jacob J. Goldberg

More than six decades after its premiere in Paris, Eugene Ionesco's The Bald Soprano is still more original and inventive than almost any play that has followed it. A flop when it premiered in 1950, it is now considered a classic and one of the pioneering works of the Theater of the Absurd. The Pearl's staging does justice to Ionesco's odd, brilliant 65-minute play.
At first glance The Bald Soprano appears to be a satire of bourgeois English society. Mr. Smith (Bradford Cover) and Mrs. Smith (Rachel Botchan) sit by the fireplace in their suburban London home. Mrs. Smith chats about dinner, their cook, and the local grocery stores, but the couple fails to communicate. Later their guests, Mr. Martin (Brad Heberlee) and Mrs. Martin (Jolly Abraham), spend about 15 minutes trying to figure out how they know each other. When they figure out that they live in the same apartment and share the same bed they finally realize they must be married. 
Yes, things are pretty wacky in Ionesco's world. There's much confusion and little logic. Appropriately enough, the rear wall of Harry Feiner's set has dishes and a clock hanging upside down from multiple mantels. Director Hal Brooks and his cast capture the absurd, topsy-turvy spirit without being heavy-handed. Botchan is just right as the matronly and proper Mrs. Smith. As her other half, Cover looks the part in his tweed jacket, but he yells too many of his lines. As their maid, Mary, Robin Leslie Brown sports a fine Cockney accent and is at her best when directly addressing the audience. Dan Daily plays the Fire Chief and does a great job with his verbose, rambling story. 
In general the pacing is brisk, but the production loses steam toward the end. All the inane chatter grows a bit tiresome, as does some of the repetitive dialogue. During the course of the play the language devolves until the characters are spouting meaningless phrases and language has lost nearly all its meaning. Ionesco may have written a comedy, but he wanted to comment on what he called the "tragedy of language." Time may have flown by since the postwar era when the Romanian-born playwright wrote The Bald Soprano, but there's nothing dated about the failure to communicate.
Anyone who leaves the theater feeling perplexed by the babbling Smiths and Martins should read the excellent director's note in the program. Brooks explains that Ionesco found inspiration when he studied English, copying phrases from an English-French conversation manual. He noticed that the Smiths and Martins didn't know much about each other and were vague about the facts of their own marriages. Leave it to a Romanian who grew up in France to point out the peculiarities of the English and their crazy, mixed-up language.


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