‘Absurdities: An Evening of Ionesco’ at The George Washington University by Yvonne French

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A pair of quintessential absurdist plays–The Bald Soprano and The Chairs by Eugene Ionesco–will lift you from the humdrum and deposit you in a place where language takes on a refreshing new meaning . . . that of nothing at all.

Maxton Young Jones, Will Low, and Rebekah Meyer. Photo by Chris Evans, TRDA Promotions Office.
‘Bald Soprano’: Maxton Young Jones, Will Low, and Rebekah Meyer. Photo by Chris Evans, TRDA Promotions Office.

In the experienced hands of Director Alan Wade, a professor of theatre since 1977 at George Washington University (GWU), this performance of two one-act plays gives you permission to sit back and let the nothingness wash over you.

The Bald Soprano is Ionesco’s first play. It is about a pair of British couples, one of which visits the other, but their conversation is so platitudinous and inane that, when they switch roles at the end, it doesn’t really matter.

The Chairs is an prime example of Theater of the Absurd, a literary tradition that describes life as pointless attributed to French writer Albert Camus and discussed in his essay The Myth of Sysyphus, who was doomed to push a rock up a hill over and over only to watch it roll down again and again.

As the Old Woman in The Chairs, GWU Senior Hilary Kelly established her quirky character with one peasant-like sniff of her nose. Kelly made the scattered, fussy, mean, conciliatory and flirtatious Old Woman into a totally recognizable character.

As the Old Man, Freshman Richard Schiavone excelled at regressing to his younger years. At one point, he sits on her lap and she comforts him as if she is his mother. They capture what it is to be young, and, notably, what it is like to be old and look back upon it. Her murmurs and gestures in addition to Ionescu’s dialog of cooings and nonsense words are excellent.

In The Bald Soprano, Senior Caitlin Simpson uses a nice sparse tempo as Mrs. Smith in her long opening monolog, and carries the show from her first singularly raised eyebrow.

Senior Matt Nickley, as Mr. Smith, channels a fox in a game of charades and leads the players as the action devolves into meaningless banter.

Freshman Will Low uses caricature-level facial expressions as Mr. Martin. He and Senior Rebekah Meyer check each other out surreptitiously but glance away just when the other might see. This minuet of manners alone is worth the inexpensive ticket.

Senior Maxton Young-Jones appeared in both plays, portraying the Fire Chief in The Bald Soprano and the Orator in The Chairs, in which his meaningless vocalizations deliver the final flurry of nonsense.

Senior Rachel Matusewicz played Mary (the maid) in The Bald Soprano. She captures with her movements the odd sensibility of the play when she disappears behind a grandfather clock.

All of the actors excelled alone and together. Their skill makes me wonder if Mr. Ionesco would still find human communication futile after seeing this performance. The actors might only consider holding their lines when the audience laughs (which is often and favorably).

The costumes were true-to-period and included a tailored woolen dress and collar for Mrs. Smith by MFA candidate Debbie Kennedy. Props were by junior Nick Ong and included a tabloid newspaper with the headline “Bald Soprano Catches Fire.”

'The Chairs': Hilary Kelly and Richard Schiavone. Photo by Chris Evans, TRDA Promotions Office .
‘The Chairs’: Hilary Kelly and Richard Schiavone. Photo by Chris Evans, TRDA Promotions Office .

The exceptional scenic design for The Chairs by MFA candidate Kirk Kristlibas portrayed the inside of a lighthouse with nine doors, each topped with an ornate transom window. The doors are accented brilliantly with right-on-cue lights by Junior Michael McManus and localized doorbell sounds by Junior Natalie Petruch in a finale that perfectly captures Ionescu’s absurdity.

Running Time: 2 ½ hours, with a 15-minute intermission.

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An Evening of Ionesco Tonight, Friday, February 21, and Saturday, February 22, at 7:30PM, and Sunday, February 23 at 2 p.m. at the Dorothy Betts Marvin Theatre – 800 21st Street, in Washington, DC. Purchase your tickets online.Buy tickets online.