The Feichter Studio at Haywood Arts Regional Theatre originated as a creative outlet where actors could explore edgier and more experimental plays than those that would likely appear on the main stage. The 2018 season kickoff exemplifies that mission. The Bald Soprano by Eugene Ionesco has nothing to do with music or hair loss. But that’s all part of the absurdism on display in the show, which runs through Sunday, Jan. 21.
The Theatre of the Absurd originated in the 1950s as a means of challenging political and societal norms through seemingly disconnected and random theatrical productions. Upon closer examination, there is a great deal of depth and commentary to be found, even if the plays themselves come across as incoherent. Ionesco was one of the top playwrights of this genre.
Director Jason Williams has a firm grasp on the material, and he challenges the audience to endure the flights of fancy. The show starts with the wildly compelling stage design. We find a modest home filled with clocks of various sizes that cover the walls. Time and perception play an important role. Chimes often ring out, interrupting discussions. Sometimes the clocks even chime well beyond 12, creating comically awkward moments that perplex and amuse both the characters and audience.
The characters waste time with random, tedious conversations. It feels as though nothing is happening or being said. At first, a middle-age couple talk about people they know, the meal they ate and other banal chit-chat. Mandy Bean and Jason Phillips are perfectly tuned into the absurd tone and establish it from the outset. And just when it feels as if the endless nothingness of their chatter becomes too much, Mary, their maid, enters and spices things up. Tabatha Hall‘s Mary is more boisterous than the staid couple (known as Mr. and Mrs. Smith) despite her dialogue being similarly random.
Overdue dinner guests arrive in the form of Mr. and Mrs. Martin. Jamie Knox and Dakota Mann play the smartphone-addicted younger couple, who look like the living embodiment of stereotypical hipsters. Williams’ use of modern smartphones is a deft addition to the play, which debuted in 1950.
Kai Elijah Hamilton, as the local fire chief, arrives late in the proceedings, dragging a long, floppy, phallic hose with him. Despite the lack of evidence of a fire, he is invited in, and the entire group tries to outdo one another with random stories that seem to have nothing to do with anything, yet the tellers are all riveted to each tale.
At the close of this long, one-act production, we get the sense that the entire cycle of absurdity will endlessly repeat itself. What is the point? Is there one? Maybe there isn’t, but the journey feels rewarding, if for no other reason than seeing this group of exceptional performers embrace the material with a fiery passion. Plays like this one are typically confined to academic settings these days, as audiences for such material are surely hard to find. It isn’t for everyone, but for those who love this sort of thing, I can’t imagine it being done any better than it is here.
WHAT: The Bald Soprano
WHERE: The Feichter Studio, HART, 250 Pigeon St., Waynesville. harttheatre.org
WHEN: Friday and Saturday, Jan. 19 and 20, at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, Jan. 21, at 3 p.m. $10