Long Live Ionesco Actors: Behind the scenes with the cast of IRC’s EXIT THE KING

Philadelphia’s favorite absurdist theater troupe, Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium, is Fringing all Festival long with Eugene Ionesco’s EXIT THE KING. Henrik Eger talks to the six cast members about the characters in this intriguing play. [Walnut Street Theatre, Independence Studio on 3, 825 Walnut St., 3rd floor] September 1-20, 2015; fringearts.com/eugene-ionescos-exit-the-king.

Sue Giddings, Robb Hutter, Anna Lou Hearn, Bob Schmidt, and Jenna Kuerzi in EXIT THE KING. (Photo credit: Johanna Austin)

Henrik Eger: Describe your posture, your role, upon entering the catwalk, and then your last exit: What changed, including the power your character once might have held?

Robb Hutter [King Berenger]: I enter potent, powerful, handsome, sexy, and charismatic—a cross between Mick Jagger, Andrew Jackson, and Hugh Hefner. I exit in deep surrender into the fullness and non-existence.

Patricia Durante [Queen Marguerite]:During the catwalk down the runway, I am on top, in control, all is well. Fabulous. Grand. At the end, in my final moments with the King, I am trying desperately to stay by his side and honor his life and my love for him by walking him peacefully and safely to his “exit.”

Anna Lou Hearn [Marie, the King’s second wife]: Walking onto the runway, the only thought in my head is that my life is fabulous. I try to emulate my idol, supermodel Karlie Kloss in all her glory. When the world falls to pieces, I hold my body as if I’m trying to hold the kingdom together, but crumbling under the weight at times.

Susan Giddings [Court Physician]: Purposeful, assured, the doctor believes he has the answer to all of life’s problems and is excited to give the latest update to the two queens on the status of the universe and the king’s declining health. At the end of the play, he feels he has failed in his ability to restore any semblance of order and that he may have failed to help the king die a dignified death.

Jenna Kuerzi [Juliette, the Maid]: Think Octavia Spencer in The Help: the maid, the nurse, the caregiver, the voice of reason, the truth, and the connection to the working man. Panic and precision. A working class clown. Following an arm’s length behind, but always four steps ahead of the situation. Juliette gets her moment when she, ultimately, prepares him for his great end before Marguerite takes over.

Bob Schmidt [the Guard]: He doesn’t have much power at all at the start of the play. He’s pretty much just a frightened puppet that parrots back whatever is said. My posture slowly dials down to mirror the situation. As the King loses his power, the Guard gains his—slowly starting to think for himself, voicing his own thoughts.

Jenna Kuerzi as Juliette and Bob Schmidt as the guard in EXIT THE KING.
Jenna Kuerzi as Juliette and Bob Schmidt as the Guard in EXIT THE KING. (Photo credit: Johanna Austin)

Eger: Which quotes make your character stand out—for better or worse?

Hutter: “The empire—has there ever been another empire like it?” “And if you’re in need of small sacrifice, then parch and wither up the world. Let every human creature die, provided I can live forever.”

“I no longer know what there was all round me. I know I was part of a world, and this world was all about me. I know it was me, but what else was there—what else?”

Durante: “It’s the normal course of events, isn’t it? You were expecting it. Or had you stopped expecting it?” “It was a lot of fuss about nothing, wasn’t it?”

Hearn: “If you don’t remember, gaze at me and learn again that I am Marie. Look at my eyes, my face, my hair, my arms, and learn me off by heart.”

Gidding: “If this was a good old heart attack, we wouldn’t have had so much trouble.”

Kuerzi:“We’re here beside you. We’ll stay with you”

Schmidt:“Still yours to command, your majesty, yours to command . . .” Even though the King has no power over him any longer, the Guard is saying it to comfort his dying former master and friend.

The cast of IRC’s EXIT THE KING, with Robb Hutter and Anna Lou Hearn in the foreground and Patricia Durante, Jenna Kuerzi, and Bob Schmidt in the background (Photo credit: Johanna Austin)
Robb Hutter and Anna Lou Hearn in the foreground and Patricia Durante, Jenna Kuerzi, and Bob Schmidt in the background (Photo credit: Johanna Austin)

Eger: EXIT THE KING, a kind of surreal King Lear, has much to say about us. Seen from the perspective of your own life, how did you connect to your role?

Hutter: When Berenger says, “Don’t stop them weeping for their king . . . I’m still the one who thinks about others,” I connect with the experience of being fully human, which, in my estimation, means holding the paradox, the polarities of being fully self-absorbed and fully altruistic, of genuinely caring about the welfare of others. I connect to the character’s absolute terror of dying. I differ in that I seek out forums in which to discuss aging and dying.

Durante: There is always someone in a crisis who rises to the occasion—by default, desire, or divine intervention. Someone must make the calls, tend to the arrangements, call the relatives, the funeral home, the newspaper. My sister, Karen, is a hospice nurse and the family hero, the caretaker, the one we all call in a crisis. She is my role model and inspiration for this role. I dedicate my performance to her.

Hearn: My truth that brought me closer to connecting with Marie, was my own relationship with death. Dealing with illness in the family, and relatives passing, has taught me to be strong enough to overcome what life throws at me.

Giddings: Working on this play reinforces the absolute inevitability of death and the various ways people and animals have to face this. With people we love, this might translate into being there with them throughout the process. With animals, this can translate into caring, both physically and emotionally, and knowing when to let go.

Kuerzi: After my Grandmother’s wake, just sitting in the house while 100 different emotions and the personalities of eight very different people were thrown around the room, I had to quietly listen and attempt to keep it together for them. That’s what this play feels like.

Schmidt: Well, it’s funny, because besides being an actor in the show, I’m on the staff of the Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium, so I am a soldier, in a way—working with Tina Brock, doing what I can to keep the company moving forward, and presenting these rarely-performed plays to keep this unique theatrical form alive in our fair city.

Jenna Kuerzi, Robb Hutter, and Patricia Durante in EXIT THE KING.  (Photo credit: Johanna Austin)
Jenna Kuerzi, Robb Hutter, and Patricia Durante in EXIT THE KING. (Photo credit: Johanna Austin)

Eger: Is there anything else you would like to share?

Hutter: I am Artistic Director of Philly Senior Stage, a theatre devoted to “bringing the thrill of theatre to senior adults.” The students I teach and the actors I direct are in their “golden years.” I lovingly joke with them about promising me not to die between the dress rehearsal and whatever show we’re working on—to at least hold out until the final curtain falls.

Durante: I am so very honored and thankful that Tina Brock cast me in this role. I am indebted to her. I have been a fan of the IRC for years, and am thrilled to be in one of Tina’s creations.

Hearn: My hope is that, by the end of the show, Marie’s sincerity shines through her Barbie looks.

Kuerzi: As with most theatre, I hope people can walk away from Exit the King with a deeper appreciation of the world, especially the moments between sadness and silliness. Those emotions can, and do, exist simultaneously in this absurd world.

Schmidt: This is a beautiful play, loaded with many great images, compelling ideas, and wonderful language—truly one of Ionesco’s best. If you’re a fan of Absurdism, get out and see it, since it’s not likely to be presented again anytime soon.

Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium’s production of Eugene Ionesco’s EXIT THE KING, directed by Tina Brock, runs September 1-20, 2015 at Walnut Street Theatre, Independence Studio on 3 [825 Walnut Street, 3rd floor]  fringearts.com/eugene-ionescos-exit-the-king.or exittheking.bpt.me.

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