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The Daily Tar Heel Monday, February 20, 19895
ADstract tneater oroauction disintegrates laneuaee
Silence. The clock strikes 17 times.
Mrs. Smith says, "There, it's nine
On paper, mere farce. But in the
Lab Theatre's production of Eugene
lonesco's "The Bald .Soprano," Mrs.
Smith's announcement sends shivers
down the spine. It is a striking
introduction and conclusion the
moment occurs twice, bookending
the play to an hour of unorthodox
arid often gripping theater.
!"The Bald Soprano" is not a play,
the story it tells is not a story, and
the characters in it are not characters.
But nevertheless it is theater, and the
fact that it is relieved of the burden
of having to tell a story or represent
characters leaves it free to be nothing
more than what it is: pure theater.
Rather than absurdist, perhaps one
should call this type of theater
: In many ways, director Debbie
Morrison's production approaches
abstraction. Often the actors' move
ments are stylized: Mrs. Smith crosses
her living room with a walk that
suggests a cross between Queen
Nefertiti and a flamenco dancer, the
Fyre Chief and Mary the maid stand
flamingo-like on one leg for a whole
minute, staring lovingly at each other
and clasping hands.
Lines are sometimes delivered in
a way that stands in direct opposition
tojtheir meaning: Mrs. Smith pro
claims that a grocer is "a great
specialist in yogurt" as though the fact
we're either disgusting, inconceivable,
These are good choices; they
enhance the tension between verbal
meaning and action. Action and
language are contradictory, like the
Smiths' clock, which "always indi
cates the opposite of what the hour
really is." It is a purely theatrical
effect, and it works.
'When meaning in language is
absent, or undermined to such an
extent that it is negligible, what
remains is rhythm. The production
exploits this element well, nowhere
rjiore effectively than in the addition
Morrison made to lonesco's text, in
which 13 pages of the script are
repeated, but in a reduced, acceler
ated version, lasting no more than a
minute. The tension caused by the
quickening tempo of the lines is
doubled by a strange textual accel
eration, as moments that previously
lasted minutes are over in a few
seconds. The action reaches a wond-
erful yet disturbing climax, which in
turn is a fit prelude for the inexpli
cable line: "Speaking of that the
But Morrison's commitment to
abstraction and stylization is not as
complete as it could be. The choice
is right, but it has been taken half
heartedly. Naturalism has been
thrown out of the window, yet
sometimes it sneaks in through the
back door. Actors switch from stark
stylization to naturalistic details that
lessen the impact of an otherwise
successful choice, like noise in a
Similarly, the interpretation of the
role of Mary the maid, played by
Jennifer Davis, is not right for this
production. The other characters are
"characterless," almost abstract,
conventionalized in such a way that
they are interchangeable. But then
Mary appears, looking and sounding
like she just escaped from the nearest
asylum, hair standing on end,
screeching and yelling her lines like
a lunatic, and suddenly one is dan
gerously close to psychological inter
pretation. Rather than abstraction, it
is exaggeration for its own sake. And,
more importantly, some of Mary's
lines are incomprehensible.
Laura Christopherson is outstand
ing as Mrs. Smith. Her outrageous
acting style is sustained by good
technique. On occasions though, she
overdoes it and approaches self
indulgence. Her monologue at the
opening of the play, however, is one
of the highlights of the production.
Wayne Covington and Jennifer
Buzzelli are good as Mr. and Mrs.
Martin, especially in the mock-tragic
rendering of their first scene, in which
husband and wife "recognize" each
other, as if for the first time.
William Hoffmann and Eddie
Saxe's performances as Mr. Smith
and the Fire Chief are encumbered
by far-from-sound British accents. A
lot of the time it is difficult to make
out exactly what Hoffmann is saying,
and Saxe's long speech about the
head cold is almost entirely lost. It
is true that the play deals with the
breakdown of language and the
impossibility of communication, but
if the actors break down the language
before the audience has a chance to
experience it, the exercise is pointless.
The tendency to abstraction was a
good choice, but mere tendencies are
never fully successful in the theater.
It should have been a no-holds-barred
decision. If ever the production drags
and there are times when it does
it is because there is "noise"
involved, elements creeping in that do
not add to the intent of the whole.
But in spite of these shortcomings,
it is an original production. It is true,
for the most part, to the spirit of
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