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2017 Philadelphia Fringe Festival Review: ‘Eugène Ionesco’s The Bald Soprano’ by The Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium at the Bethany Mission Gallery

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The banality of bourgeois life, the futile desperation to find meaning in mundane existence, the trivial chatter and vapid clichés used to fill the emptiness of everyday being, and the failure of language to express anything but the illogic of it all are the tragicomic themes of Eugène Ionesco’s The Bald Soprano. Though the Absurdist master’s seminal “anti-play” is set in the context of mid-century post-war London, it continues to resonate in our current time of unnerving socio-political conflict, plagued by the rapid deterioration of communicating effectively with one another through rational thought and meaningful dialogue. It’s an unsettling message that’s delivered loud and clear by Director Tina Brock and her uproarious cast in The Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium’s trenchant Fringe production of the 1950 classic.

John Zak, Sonja Robson, and Tina Brock. Photo by Johanna Austin @ AustinArt.org.

John Zak, Sonja Robson, and Tina Brock. Photo by Johanna Austin @ AustinArt.org.

Affecting risible English accents, the IRC’s well-rehearsed and fully-committed ensemble captures the strangeness and estrangement of their characters (from both each other and their tenuous grip on reality). Under Brock’s seasoned direction, they build the mood from the obvious physical, emotional, and psychological disconnect of the Smiths (perfectly portrayed by Brock and company Co-Founder Bob Schmidt), to the oddly “curious” and “bizarre” series of “coincidences” discovered by their guests the Martins, who can’t seem to recall that they’re a couple (played with Vaudevillian-inspired gusto by the terrific John Zak and Sonja Robson), to a frenetic climax of high-decibel outbursts, irrational non-sequiturs, and agitated physicality by all four. The leads are supported by Tomas Dura in his eccentric gender-reversed role as the Smiths’ outspoken Mary the Maid, and Arlen Hancock as the gruff Fire Chief, whose demanding genealogical recitation and nonsensical story-telling are a scream.

Performed in the Bethany Mission Gallery and surrounded by an outstanding collection of vintage outsider art, the show’s design underscores the increasingly apparent discrepancy between the traditional propriety of the protagonists’ tastefully appointed environment and genteel attire (1940s-style costumes by Erica Hoelscher) with their inane conversations, contradictory comments, irrational behavior, and fundamental lack of comprehension, all of which sardonically suggest a state akin to dementia inherent in the human condition. Following the total disintegration of language and the collapse of any semblance of reason, the present production concludes with a sharply curtailed ending (foreshadowed throughout by Brock’s soundscape of ringing doorbells and the ticking and chiming of a clock) that highlights the play’s tragedy over its comedy, and its recognition of the ultimate absurdity and pointlessness of life.

With its expert presentation of Eugène Ionesco’s The Bald Soprano, The Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium has successfully opened this year’s Fringe with an affecting, provocative, and disturbingly relevant bang!

Promotional image with Bob Schmidt, Tina Brock, John Zak, and Sonja Robson. Photo by Johanna Austin @ AustinArt.org.

Promotional image with Bob Schmidt, Tina Brock, John Zak, and Sonja Robson. Photo by Johanna Austin @ AustinArt.org.

Running Time: Approximately 60 minutes, without intermission.

Eugène Ionesco’s The Bald Soprano plays through Sunday, September 24, 2017, at The Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium, performing at the Bethany Mission Gallery – 1527 Brandywine Street, Philadelphia, PA. For tickets, call the Fringe box office at (215) 413-9006, or purchase them online.

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