2843 Washington Blvd.
(Formerly Coventry School)
Cleveland Heights, Ohio
January 17th, 18th, and 19th
The Chairs will start at 6pm.
Exit The King will start at 8pm.
Ensemble Theatre is currently producing a double-header of two Eugene Ionesco works; “The Chairs” and “Exit the King”. I hope I am not treading on any toes when I say that it just was not my cup of tea. Perhaps if I had showed up wearing a beret with black pants and shirt while drinking strong coffee and snapping my fingers instead of clapping (in short acting like the beat bohemian) I might have been more in character as an audience member. Both plays are from “the master of the theater of the absurd” and concerning this, they hit the nail on the head.
This is not to say that the cast was inadequate. Fact is, in their own way, each of them was great as they tried their best to put life into the works. It was simply that the material itself was so off the wall as to be nearly incomprehensible. Let us begin with “The Chairs”. The play is directed by Stephen Vasse-Hansell and starring Mary Jane Nottage & Joseph Milan (who all three did an admirable job).
It is the tale of an elderly couple (apparently in their nineties) who live together in a house surrounded by an ocean of stagnant water. The first portion of the play has the couple reminiscing about their life together and all the regrets they have…he never achieved his potential, he abandoned his sick mother and their life has become one of repetition (telling the same tired unfinished stories over and over). At times he degenerates into an infantile existence and must be calmed by his wife (who he refers to at times as his mother and father).
Tonight is special because the man has invited those who are apparently the last remaining soles of a doomed world. The prominent guests (consisting of notable figures of society, government and the armed forces) begin to arrive but they are all invisible. As the couple greets the guests they scurry about dragging out chairs (21 by final count) with the invisible late comers having to line the walls of whatever room they are in. One of the last guests to arrive is “The Emperor” (also invisible) who is seated with great pomp and ceremony.
The reason for the gathering is that the man has an announcement that he has worked on for his entire existence (perhaps it is the true meaning of life). He has hired an Orator to speak for him since he does not feel himself capable of the task. The Orator arrives (and surprise he is visible). Knowing that his message will now be heard the man and wife realize that their life is complete and commit suicide by jumping out of the two windows and splashing into the water below.
The Orator begins to speak but it is soon apparent that he is a deaf-mute and everything comes out garbled. Desperately pulling a piece of chalk from his pocket he begins to write on the chalk board “Angel”, “Food” and “Nnnnn Nnnnn Nnnnnn” which he quickly erases and writes “Adieu Papa” (or something resembling that) three times. The Orator then shrugs and leaves the stage and the lights dim. Apparently this play is an exercise in futility and irony.
As for the second play, “Exit The King”, shown the same evening the actors again do a wonderful job but are trapped by the particulars of the script. The play is
directed by Ian Wolfgang Hinz and stars Robert Hawkes as King Berenger the First, Valerie Young as Queen Marguerite, Katie Nabors as Queen Marie, Jeremy Jenkins as the Doctor, Debbie Lenarz as Julliet, & Clifton Holznagel as Guard.
King Berenger the First (dressed in pajamas and royal garb and using a cane as a scepter) is the ruler of a crumbling kingdom and it is announced early on by ex-queen Marguerite that by the end of the play the king will be dead. Where once he held sovereign over millions, his kingdom has shrunk. Drained of its youth and natural resources by costly wars and neglect the kngdom is about to be swallowed up by a giant sinkhole. The royal palace is in shambles with no heat and even the sun has dimmed. As goes the health of the King so seems goes the fortunes of the kingdom.
The play seems to take on the Kübler-Ross model for the seven stages of grief, that is: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance only with much more words. The featured “highlights” of the play seem to be long (very long) soliloquies (like Shakespeare but not with the cool Middle English words) that ramble on and on no matter how energetic they are voiced. What you end up with is an excruciatingly long (one hour and forty-five minutes) exercise in tedium that makes you squirm in your seat. By the end of the play you’re ready to leap on stage and do the old buzzard in yourself.
We first learn of the depressing state of the kingdom apparently caused by the King’s age and dalliance with his new wife, Queen Marie. The doctor arrives and with Queen Marguerite keeps the audience informed on exactly how much time is left on the king’s life as well as the play. Juliette is the sole remaining “domestic help” who lives in the attic and must attend to everyone who is left in the castle. She is even given a bit, telling the king how horrible her existence is while the king (who by this time is even closer to cashing in) thinks that any life experience is exquisite and should be savored like fine wine.
Queen Marie is “the new wife” who believes her youth will revive the king to his former glory. As she realizes that it is not in her power to forestall the inevitable she breaks down in tears only to rally and try again and again and again. The guard is the official court crier who announces all comings and goings as well as when the king falls down, “The King is down, the King is dead, the King is back up again!” but even this bit of comedy is done over too many times. One bit of interesting paraphernalia that the guard has is a collection of old cameras dangling from his personage plus a newer digital camera that bluetooths the image to a back screen. This was an interesting effect.
At last after all the words about the gradual demise of the king and kingdom, the minute to minute reports on the various symptoms, the dance sequence, the list of accomplishments of the exulted ruler, the blow by blow description of how the kingdom fell into disrepair etc, etc, etc the cast members leave one by one until it is just the king on his throne as the light fades. Perhaps if the play was performed as a total comic farce with leering asides and shorter speeches it would have a chance to be entertaining, but apparently that is not the purpose of the theater of the absurd. Its purpose is to point out the meaninglessness of life and nothing more. With any luck, the death of the king signals the death of this play and it will be put on the shelf for another forty years.
Prude Alert: No foul language or subject matter makes this ok for those with aversions to such but it is a long 2 hours and 55 minutes with nearly an hour intermission that makes for a long evening.
Shooting From The Lip (My Last Words): Ensemble Theatre’s double production of Eugene Ionesco’s “The Chairs” and “Exit the King” makes for a long evening of theater in spite of the courageous efforts of the cast. The works would bring a frown to even Pollyanna. If your life has been too joyous recently and you wish to take it down a notch I suggest you purchase some tickets and come see this marathon of the macabre.
All tickets are $15.00 for each play or purchase two tickets for $20 which will get you into both plays.
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Works soon to be produced in 2014
"ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE"
KNOCK ME A KISS
By Charles Smith
Directed by Carolyn Jackson Smith
January 31 through Febraury 23rd, 2014
Winner of 9 2011 AUDELCO awards.
COLOMBI NEW PLAYS FESTIVAL
This will be the month of March. Specific Dates and shows TBA.
BEYOND THE HORIZON
by Eugene O'Neil
Directed by Celeste Cosentino
April 18th through May 11th, 2014
O'Neill's 1st Pulitzer Prize Winner-1920.
We look forward to seeing you in our audience!
TICKETS, SUBSCRIPTIONS, & INFORMATION
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Mark Horning is a writer and photographer who covers the Fine Arts scene of Cleveland and surrounding areas for Examiner.com. While not having held any positions in regards to the theater world he tries his best to give “the man on the street” opinion on the various productions that he reviews.