Author: Stephen Nemeth
It does not take an extravagant stage design or over-the-top costumes to create the conditions for a quirky comedy or the touching story of a surreal drama.
Living up to the unusual way in which they were promoted, the student stage productions of “The Bald Soprano” and “Far Away” were original, offbeat and, most of all, weird.
For its two-night engagement with the public, “Two Weird Plays” ran under the direction of Professor Emeritus Alan Freeman in the Keck Theater lobby Friday and Saturday night.
The two performances, however, did not strictly adhere to the original creations of playwrights Eugène Ionesco or Caryl Churchill. With the addition of several musical pieces, anachronistic objects and the actors’ own takes on the characters, the cast went all out to make these plays as weird as possible.
“The Bald Soprano” centers on characters Ms. and Mrs. Smith, portrayed by theater major Amanda Wagner (sophomore) and Weekly staff member and undeclared major Wellesley Daniels (first-year), respectively.
The Martins, a husband and wife couple played by theater major Lindsay Fisher (first-year) and English and Comparative Literary Studies (ECLS) and theater double major Sarah Martellaro (senior) enter. The Smiths then leave the room and the Martins forget who the other is, recalling everything that they have done together yet professing that they remember nothing about the other. As the evening’s events progress, the Martins realize they are husband and wife and have been in each others company ever since their arrival at the Smiths.
When the Smiths return to the stage, an awkward pause ensues as the characters take refuse in their iPhones, an unexpected move for a ’50s era play which had the audience bursting out laughing.
Stand-out moments of the play included a steamy and unexpected make-out scene between the fire chief and the maid, played by theater major Nina Carlin (junior) and Critical Theory and Social Justice (CTSJ) major Madeleine Ziomek (senior), respectively, as well as a fiery poem from the maid that results in her being dragged off stage.
Once the fire chief mentions “the bald soprano” as she is leaving the house, the play devolves into long sequences of non-sequiturs. In the end, no one could make any sense of what was going on. The Smiths and the Martins danced around with chairs, Mary continually screamed, “Everything has caught fire” from upstairs, the cuckoo clock chimed repeatedly and the lights went dark.
The room was lit once again only to reveal the Martins in the same positions as the Smiths had been at the beginning of the play, repeating their words verbatim.
“The first thing that you read when you open the script is ‘The Anti-Play,’ and the fact that there is no definitive ending just kind of adds to that anti-play idea and nonsensicalnenss,” Wagner said. “I think [Ionesco] was trying to communicate the nonsensical and vapidness of modern communication and just how people have conversations that are completely meaningless and how transparent people can be.”
The second play, “Far Away,” opened to Occidental Alumni Clarence Treat ’60 singing two songs for the audience: the first a comforting Israeli love song and the second a somber yet poignant piece entitled, “You’ve Heard My Voice.”
At first the play opens to an innocent little girl, Joan (Martellaro), descending the stairs of her house in the middle of the night to find her Aunt Harper. Joan at this point represents the innocence that Freeman wants to express, and Harper tries to keep her innocent.
But the next scene, set a few years later, is completely different. Joan is grown up and working in a hat factory with Todd, played by theater major Tomás Dakan (junior).
“[The first song] introduces a tone of tenderness and love which I thought was kind of interesting given the nature of the play to come,” Freeman said. “It is also a conscious attempt on my part to set up the world as we would like it to be … the world as a little girl thinks it is, that there is innocence in this all.”
The play takes place in a dystopian society where prisoners wear hats to “trials.” At one point there is even a parade of prisoners guarded by soldiers with guns outside, showing the omnipresence of fatality.
Then it devolves into an absurd world where even the sky and water are at war. Yet the characters still represent something to the audience.
“I wanted to express deep honesty through the character of Joan; a real person,” Martellaro said via email. “Placing such a real, relatable person in a dystopian society (someplace ‘far away’) allows the audience to realize that a world where all earthly objects are pitted against each other, where violence and war are the norm, isn’t truly that far away.”
The two main characters, Todd and Joan, are lovers separated for several years who are united only in the last scene, making it clear that no one in the world can win.
The chemistry between the actors and actresses is clear from beginning to end. These plays were altogether intriguing in the strangest moments, touching in the darkest times and delightful at the strangest and weirdest occasions.
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