Most college students are familiar with a variety of cinematic genres, be it horror, romance, comedy, action or drama. This spectrum of style is also present in the live theater, whose experimentation with form continuously redefines the potential of a story. However, some forms of performance are employed more frequently than others. This is certainly true of the Theatre of the Absurd — a style unknown to most, and unsurprisingly so. Absurdist theater has come under much criticism since its formation in the early 1940s. Often accused of being better suited for writing than performance, its existentialist themes and convoluted methods are typically layered and intellectual, hardly the sort of material one might choose to produce as a young director. And yet, Melissa Cooper ’12 and a host of Rollins students are seeking to do just this, mounting a production of Eugene Ionesco’s The Bald Soprano, which opens this week at the Fred Stone Theater.
Audience members expecting to see a run-of-the-mill play may be shocked by The Bald Soprano. A quick survey of the scenery, designed by Charlie Jicha ’12, shows a living room that is anything but typical. The even pattern of the brightly colored wallpaper is interrupted by a Dali-esque giant clock, framed by ornate furniture and several doors and non-doors. The action makes about as much sense as the set. The play begins with Mr. and Mrs. Smith, played by Ryan Lambert ’13, and Kaitlyn Schirard ’12, conversing in utter nonsense. A full two minutes pass before the audience even sees Mr. Smith’s face. The play also features Mr. and Mrs. Martin, played by Chris Sutter ’13, and Becca Hamilton ’15, a married couple — though they often forget the fact. Rounding out the story is the cheeky maid, played by Emily Steward ’14, and the fire chief, played by Jonny Skoblionko ’15. This curious collection of characters provides a quick paced roller coaster of confusion that might pose more questions than it answers.
So what is the point? Why produce this play? In many ways, the question is the answer in and of itself. And yet, even amid the nonsense, audiences seem to be finding meaning. As Cooper notes, “What draws me to this play is how naturally these characters speak to one another, even though the sentences do not make a lot of sense. Their statements are true to them, and they fully believe in what they are saying.” How often can we say that about ourselves? We are often made so busy by our day-to-day activities that we rely on our autopilot to get us through. Can we truly invest in what we are saying? Can we believe, as these characters do?
Different people take away different things from absurdist plays. Some people say they depict the meaninglessness of human existence. Others say they are a warning against the ills of society. Still others see them as a heralding call to treasure what relationships we do have. Whatever the takeaway message, these lessons seem to be more reflective of the audience member than the play itself. What will you discover about yourself?
The Bald Soprano runs this weekend in the Fred Stone Theater with shows at 8 p.m. and a final show this Sunday, Nov. 6 at 2 p.m. The show is stage managed by Anastasia Herbert ‘14 and features lighting design by Jenea Robinson ’14, sound design by Erik Keevan ’12, costume design by Katie Jones ’12. The Bald Soprano is presented free of charge.