We are living in absurd times. If the six weeks we’ve experienced of 2020 are any indication, things don’t seem to be getting any more normal. The work of Ionesco, and other absurdists, can be a soothing balm for these times. 60 years ago, Ionesco was pointing out the failures to understand each other, the ache of trying to identify oneself, and the solipsistic narcissism that can come with middle class comforts. (“There is no second class in England, but I always travel second class.”)
The Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium brings back the core cast of their 2017 hit Philadelphia Fringe production of The Bald Soprano directed by and starring artistic director, Tina Brock. However, rediscovering the text with the cast “quickly revealed the necessity of drastically rethinking the 2017 production. Our relationship to language – how we use, interpret and value it, has changed dramatically since the play was written in the mid-20th century.“ For this production, Brock took the play out of the traditional 1950s and brought it into the more libidinous 1960s.
The IRC has once again partnered with the Bethany Mission Gallery to present the play among the Gallery’s exquisite collection of outsider art. Audience is seated around the play space, and the effect is a wonderfully immersive experience. For those that saw IRC’s Come Back, Little Sheba this fall, this arrangement feels much more intimate and effective. Brock also brilliantly uses art pieces from the collection at various points as illustrations of the nonsensical stories shared throughout the 70 minute play. Sometimes they are family snapshots, other times a family tree, and others a family portrait. The mixing of the vibrant and deeply strange visual art with this absurdist classic is fascinating and helped reinforce the cultural and historical context of Ionesco’s work.
The entire ensemble delivers solid performances. As Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Bob Schmidt and Tina Brock set the stage. Carlos Forbes Is delightfully funny and sexually menacing as the fire chief. Tomas Dura’s Mary the Maid is surreal and sardonic. John Zak and Sonja Robson as Mr. and Mrs. Martin are worth the price of admission. In their first scene, they deduce, through a series of heightened coincidences, that they are, in fact, married. Zak and Robson’s commitment to the increasingly ridiculous and heightening stakes are a masterclass in comedic scene work.
As we continue to wrestle with the very nature of truth and the absurd, IRC’s is a welcome reminder that these questions are not just problems of the 21st century.