David E. Frank and Jeff Atik in 'The Bald Soprano'.

David E. Frank and Jeff Atik in ‘The Bald Soprano’.

It’s Christmas at the Smiths.

Mrs. Smith, (played with gender twisting aplomb by David E. Frank) comes across like a rejected cover model from “Good Housekeeping” on meth as she rambles on in rhapsody about the dinner she and her husband have just consumed. “Yogurt is excellent for the stomach, the kidneys, the appendicitis, and apotheosis.”

Mr. Smith (Jeff Atik) spews nonsensical gibberish from behind the sanctuary of his evening newspaper. One asks oneself, is this communication or gobbledygook, and how exactly is the one distinguished from the other. At one point Mr. Smith reads in his newspapers that Bobby Watson died leaving behind a widow, also named Bobby, and a young son and daughter.

MRS. SMITH

What are their names?

MR. SMITH

Bobby and Bobby like their parents. Bobby Watson’s uncle, old Bobby Watson, is a rich man and very fond of the boy. He might very well pay for Bobby’s education.

MRS. SMITH

That would be proper. And Bobby Watson’s aunt, old Bobby Watson, might very well, in her turn, pay for the education of Bobby Watson, Bobby Watson’s daughter. That way Bobby, Bobby Watson’s mother, could remarry. Has she anyone in mind?

MR. SMITH

Yes, a cousin of Bobby Watson’s.

MRS. SMITH      

Who? Bobby Watson?

MR. SMITH

Which Bobby Watson do you mean?

MRS. SMITH

Why, Bobby Watson, the son of old Bobby Watson, the late Bobby Watson’s other uncle.

If perhaps the cadence strikes a familiar tone, attribute that to Ionesco’s influence on the Monty Python gang.

Enter the Smiths’ maid (Lena Kay) who announces the arrival of their dinner guests Mr. & Mrs. Martin, (Bo Roberts & Cynthia Mance) who, tellingly, have arrived too late to dine. Left alone when the Smiths go to change, the Martins engage in small talk with each other, only to discover – that they are married to one another and sleeping in the same bed – egad!

It is with the entrance of the Fire Chief (Kenneth Rudnicki) that the language crumbles, like a desiccated carcass into a bizarre hodgepodge of clichés and non sequiturs which communicates nothing except the desperate isolation of the characters themselves.

It was while in the process of failing to learn English that Eugene Ionesco, until that point a little known Romanian poet, turned his hand to playwriting. The foreignness of a foreign language brought home to Ionesco the overall foreignness of all language, as he confronted the strangeness of words and the idiomatic nature of Romanian expressions like “You can have no more of a cat but her skin” with those of English like…“turned his hand to playwriting”.

The resultant work was a verbal ballet celebrating the limitations and artificialness of language. “The Bald Soprano” premiered at France’s Théâtre des Noctambules on May 11, 1950, ensuring that Ionesco was destined to become the poster child for theatre of the absurd.

Now, frankly, I equate “The Bald Soprano” with the old’ pizza comparison, by which I mean the worst one I ever had wasn’t bad. The play is such a hodgepodge of quirky bits, comedy, the bizarre and outlandish characters all mashed into a very short play (it runs less than an hour). It is therefore hard to mount a truly god awful production, simply because, generally, audiences are still in the thick of trying to figure out just what the hell they’re watching when the show’s ending abruptly erupts all over them. In this regard, its somewhat comparable to Christopher Durang’s “Actor’s Nightmare” which is such a compact and solidly constructed short comic one act that you’re still gonna get some laughs even in a production by the Ayatollah Khomeini Sharia Ensemble featuring the talents of Pol Pot and Myra Hindley, hence why both shows are long-established favorites at the academic level. Paradoxically, while “Bald Soprano” is so “suck-staging resistant” you seldom see a completely god awful production – you also seldom have a truly exceptional mounting as well.

The great stumbling blocks to achieving an artistically commendable offering of “The Bald Soprano” are the crippling demands it makes on the craft and uniqueness that any troupe brings to the undertaking. The story goes that Bert Lahr, legendary vaudevillian and beloved Cowardly Lion was asked on his death bed if dying was hard, to which he is said to have replied, “Not as hard as comedy.” If however they had asked him if dying were as hard as farce, that would have killed him off then and there.

”The Bald Soprano: A Christmas Anti-Play” currently being offered by City Garage in Santa Monica is a re-mounting of their highly praised 2007 production adapted by Artistic Director Frédérique Michel and Producing Director Charles Duncombe who have given it a holiday-from-hell spin as well as a new subtitle.

City Garage appeared on the LA theater scene back in 1987, and from the start has been celebrated for the skilled and accomplished staging of its shows, and justly so. Michel and Duncombe are the Dynamic Duo behind this undertaking and this production amply demonstrates why City Garage is so highly regarded in our theater community. Michel’s direction is surgically sharp. Duncombe’s set and overall production design reveals how very, very much can be conveyed when a minimalist approach is applied with intelligence.

Michel and Duncombe along with their talented cast have given us a first rate staging of one of the classics of modern theater. If you’ve never partaken of “The Bald Soprano” you couldn’t do better than this staging for your introduction to Ionesco’s miniature maddening masterpiece.

The Bald Soprano: A Christmas Anti-Play.

City Garage
Bergamot Station Arts Center
2525 Michigan Ave., Building T1
Santa Monica, CA 90404

Translated & Adapted by Frédérique Michel and Charles A. Duncombe

Directed by Frédérique Michel
Produced by Charles A. Duncombe
Cast: Jeff Atik, Mitchell Colley, David E. Frank, Lena Kay, Cynthia Mance, Bo Roberts, Kenneth Rudnicki

November 30—December 23, 2012:
Fridays, Saturdays 8:00pm
Sundays 4:00pm

Admission: $25
Students w/ID & Seniors (65+): $20
Sundays “Pay-What-You-Can”
(at the door only)

Purchase tickets online at Brown Paper Tickets