New York City Theater
"The Bald Soprano" & "The Lesson"
Atlantic Theater Company
Two one-act plays by absurdist writer Eugene Ionesco, with an excellent translation/adaptation by playwright Tina Howe, are now offered in a fine production at the Atlantic Theater Company.
Each play opens deceptively, sucking the viewers into a familiar, comfortable scene. In "The Bald Soprano," a middle-class couple is seated in the living room, apparently having just finished dinner. She darns socks and natters on about the dinner, while he, engrossed in the Sunday Times, ignores her. It is the typical talk/non-talk exchange of a long-married couple, a familiar domestic scene.
But soon there is something awry here. The clock gongs endlessly, when it should announce nine o'clock. A visiting couple is treated with outrageous rudeness. The two couples awkwardly attempt social chatter, but fail dismally. As inanities mount in the dialogue, Ionesco makes it clear that language is no solution for communication, no salvation for any of us. Language becomes, not a highway, but a barrier.
The second piece, "The Lesson," carries the inanities of language, the futility of communication, even further. A delectable young girl has arrived for her "lesson." The professor will help her prepare for a doctor of philosophy program. This, too, begins safely with polite exchange. But it soon becomes apparent that this Ph.D. candidate cannot do the simplest addition and subtraction problems. It is also soon clear that the two have no grounds for exchange, no ability to reach each other. As the professor's frustrations mounts, his learned language turns into gobble-de-gook, and the play takes a darker turn, ultimately spiraling into madness.
Director Carl Forsman has the ability to make the Ionesco plays seem natural, reasonable, even as the zaniest exchanges occur. And under his direction all cast members-John Ellison Conlee, Michael Countryman, Maggie Kiley, Seana Kofoed, Maggie Lacey, Jan Maxwell, Christa Scott-Reed, Steven Skybell, and Robert Stanton-turn in solid performances.
-- Irene Backalenick
Sept. 19, 2004