A Celebration of the Absurd at the NTS
Graduating class of 2017 presents double-bill Lear and Exit The King
By Byron Toben
It’s always a bargain to catch student productions at the National Theatre School where you can see the stars of tomorrow in exciting plays. Recently, a double bill by the 2017 graduating class featured two examples of the theatre of the absurd.
Exit The King by Eugene Ionesco features a king who refuses to die (but finally does). This effort by the Franco/ Romanian author of such pieces as The Bald Soprano, The Chairs and Rhinoceros reminded me of the wonderful line in the 1960 Godard film where ingénue Jean Seberg, as a novice reporter for the Paris Herald Tribune, interviews Pavulescu, a famous writer obviously based on Ionesco, as to his goals, to which he replies: “D’être immortel, et après, de mourir.” (To become immortal, and after, to die.)
Roland Piers handled the meaty role of the narcissistic King who cannot believe he must die even after 400 years of trumping death. Lots of neat ranting and raving, stumbling and rising. Ellie Ellwand as his first wife, Marguerite, provides a sobering presence as the peaked skull capped doctor (Justin Shaw) provides doomed diagnosis. The King’s second wife (or mistress?), Marie (Gabriella Sundar Singh) attempts to bring some solace to the dying monarch, while Josie Jones as maid and guards Bert Demczuk and Yousef Kadoura fill small but important roles.
This play is unique in the Ionesco repertoire, which often is based on multiple or increasing objects, be they chairs or rhinos. Here, the objects eventually are diminished (sceptre, crown).
It’s always a bargain to catch student productions at the National Theatre School where you can see the stars of tomorrow in exciting plays.
Lear by Korean American Young Jean Lee (two Obie awards!) takes off from Shakespeare’s King Lear.
The two evil daughters, Regan (Rachel Mutombo) and Goneril (Dejan Dixon-Green) relate their thoughts on past and future while Gloucester’s two sons, Edgar (Nick Ouellette) and bastard Edmund (Gregory Waters) hang around to rationalize Regan’s blinding of their father (some of Shakespeare bears affinities to grand guignol – “Out Vile Jelly”).
Discussions thicken when good sister Cordelia (Athena Katlin Trinh) returns from haven France to punish her siblings with her cheerful kindness. Shades of Selena Gomez singing Kill’ Em with Kindness.
Good or bad, theses three activist sisters are definitely not Chekov’s long suffering trio.
This twin bill that ended at the Monument National on March 4, was aided by many back stage creative and production students.
Keep an eye out for the playwriting students at the annual New Words Festival April 29 to May 6.
Feature image: Scene from Lear – Maxime Côté
Byron Toben is the immediate past-president of the Montreal Press Club