CONFUSED COUPLE Odenwalder and Iacovelli. [Photo by Hollie Diorio]
It’s been more than a half-century since Eugène Ionesco’s first play, The Bald Soprano, was written in a burst of splenetic post-WWII exasperation over the ludicrous behavior of his species. Nowadays, with more practice, we are less shocked than dismayed and accommodated, so Burbage Theatre Company’s take on this 1950 vanguard venture into Theater of the Absurd is less psychotherapy for us than simple, farcical amusement.
Under the imaginative, whirlwind direction of Alex Duckworth, a capable cast is delivering a breezy 50-minute display of exaggerated human foolishness (through June 28). Two couples, a maid, and a fire chief display common social conventions and departures from such as though they can’t decide whether to wear armor or a tutu to the Halloween party that is life.
Writing in French, Ionesco got into mocking the English as much as making fun of people in general, setting the action in an unspecified suburb of London. When Mr. and Mrs. Smith (David De Almo, Cassie De Almo) mention the name of the city, they do so as though an angelic choir is echoing in the background. As they proceed, we see that politeness and pretentiousness are indistinguishable to them.
The first activity we witness is both odd and decorous. Mr. Smith carefully removes his shoes and socks, then steps back to pick up and sniff one sock, a quick nod pronouncing it satisfactory. When his wife appears, they perform a rambling exchange of pleasantries. She rattles on about the cooking oil at the shop at the corner of the street being better than the cooking oil at the shop at the top of the street. She also points out that yogurt is good for, among other things, “appendicitis and apotheosis,” reminding us of the confusion within this orderly mind. In a sometimes all-too orderly world, a reference to a deceased Bobby Watson unfolds until we understand that not only is every member of the late Bobby’s family named Bobby, but everyone in their extended family as well; apparently, no one has to bother to remember anybody else’s name, consequent disadvantages be damned.
Amid all the madness and foolishness, Mary the Maid (Hollie Diorio) is a calm witness, standing in for us as observer as all the mayhem swirls about. The Smiths’ maid is also the only (relatively) sane one of the bunch. She does seem inordinately proud of buying herself a chamber pot; she has to take what small pleasures she can find in coping with a crazed family.
When the Smiths’ guests arrive four hours late to dinner, Mary berates Mr. and Mrs. Martin (Andrew Iacovelli, Lauren Odenwalder) for being so rude. Left to themselves for a while, they suddenly forget who they are, perhaps because they are out of a social context. Getting acquainted as though they are strangers who just met, they are surprised to discover little commonalities in their lives. Repeating “how curious it is and what a coincidence!,” they eventually determine that they are married to each other. Eventually, Mr. Martin startles and exclaims, “Elizabeth! I have found you again!” That pretty much summarizes the relationship between some bored married couples, don’t you think?