THEATER REVIEW: An evening of absurdist one acts by Theatre UNCA

ABSURDLY DELICIOUS: TheatreUNCA set the table for an evening of classic one-act plays by Harold Pinter and Eugene Ionesco. Geordie Bailey, top, and Alex Mbuthia, performed in the limited run of shows. Photo courtesy of TheatreUNCA

Time and space mean nothing in the absurdist universe. All signs and symbols of modern life were up for reconsideration and ridicule in the one-act plays staged last weekend by TheatreUNCA.

First up was The Room, set in a flat in Britain on a cold night. Inside, Rose (played by Alex Mbuthia) and Bert (Jarrett Lefler) live a mundane, if comfortable, existence where she does the talking and Bert sits, unresponsive. It’s a one-sided relationship, but we don’t know why. Rose is afraid of noises from the basement apartment. She frets about neighbors and worries that Bert’s car might slip on the ice forming on the roads. The landlord, Mr. Kidd (Dan Wood), visits. And, later, a couple drop in hoping to rent the very flat where Bert and Rose now live. Something’s wrong, but we don’t know what.

Rose is the enigma here, and her final visitor, a blind man named Riley (Geordie Bailey), begins to dismantle the facade of middle-class security represented in the room. The pacing is excellent as Rose grows more agitated with each visitor’s arrival. It’s only when Bert returns home that we see the genuine menace of the relationship. The cozy room becomes a prison.

This play, by Harold Pinter, was written to shock, which is why the unconventional structure and plot are so gratifyingly unsettling. It reminds us of how cleverly violence can reside in any household and how, perhaps, we don’t really want to see it.

The Bald Soprano, by Eugene Ionesco, takes place in another flat, this time with an upper-middle-class couple. A lovely dinner table is set for guests. Mrs. Smith (Mbuthia) and her husband (Lefler) are expecting Mrs. Martin (Mae Tesh) and her husband (Alex Fus). We know something is off about this setting because the clock chimes and Mrs. Smith responds in an almost robotic manner, as if controlled by time. The clock is suspended overhead and is bent to resemble those in Salvador Dalí’s painting, “The Persistence of Memory.” This clock, however, doesn’t keep good time. Throughout the play, the chimes indicate that we are not in a predictable, regimented space. This is an absurdist space.

In the Smith household, people read the newspaper and chat amiably. When the Martins arrive, that’s when polite dinner conversation devolves into a series of shouting matches, nonsequiturs, aphorisms and clichés. The standout performance is by Tesh, who, because Mrs. Martin has memory problems, cannot recall the trip to the dinner party, who her husband is or even how they met. Tesh has a canny sense of comedic timing and delivers a performance full of the physicality and facial expressions necessary to pull off this classic absurdist exchange. The ending of The Bald Soprano is just as startling as that of The Room, which makes them a wonderful pair.

While there are no upcoming performances of these shows, TheatreUNCA will stage Nothing’s Happening — A Black Mountain College Project, based around BMC professor John Cage’s Lecture on Nothing. The show is in collaboration with this semester’s Black Mountain College Legacy Fellow Leon Ingulsrud of the New York City-based SITI Company and will be presented Thursday-Saturday, April 18-20. The students will also take the show to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August. Learn more at


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

About Patricia Furnish
Patricia Furnish is a North Carolina native who loves history, Spanish, and the visual arts. She is also a documentary filmmaker. Follow me @drpatriqua

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.