Backstage at the Bald Soprano   1 comment

 

I found the no bozos sign in the theater's workshop area.

 
No Bozos!  That’s a thought to live by.  There are no bozos in the cast of the Bald Soprano, although their antics will have any audience laughing a lot indeed.

It’s 10 p.m. and right now my son James (also known as Corencio in gaming circles altough I doubt if his thespian friends know him by that name) is in the middle of opening night for the Phoenix College dramatic presentation of Eugene Ionesco’s The Bald Soprano.  Why am I not there?  Well, I already saw it, two nights ago at the last dress rehearsal, and besides, I’m planning to go again this weekend when I can get a larger party together to go with me.
The Bald Soprano is an odd title.  Those words occur exactly once during the play, are spoken emphatically by The Fire Chief, and make no sense whatsoever.  But then, when you watch the play, not much makes sense at all, and yet,  the audience is invited to grope for meaning amidst the absurdities.  We viewers can’t help it.  Our brains are hardwired to invest meaning into all that we see and do.  And on the surface there seems to be meaning in the increasingly odd actions of the players. 

The playwright, Ionesco, was born in Romania on November 26, 1909, but grew up in France and is considered to be a French writer.  At the age of 40 he decided to teach himself English by studying whole English sentences. He apparently had a text of some sort with dialogue between a typical English couple, Mr. and Mrs. Smith.  The sentences were so remarkably banal that they broke his sanity and started him writing absurdist plays.  The Bald Soprano was his first play and it came out in 1950 to remarkably little acclaim, but has since been recongnized as the quintessence of Theater of the Absurd.  It is a glimpse into the lives of an English couple, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and the very strange world they live in.  For a more thorough discussion of Ionesco’s life, development, and works, check out the article about him here: http://en.wikipedia.org/ .  Ionesco died in 1994.  I don’t intend to recap the history of Ionesco, his weird plays, or the Bald Soprano itself.  I only intend to give you my impressions of what I saw backstage at the Bald Soprano.

Small theater often concentrates on plays without a particular star.  The Bald Soprano features six separate characters, and each one of them has a lot of lines.  IMHO, that’s a very good thing. Everyone gets experience and everyone is indispensable.

The Bald Soprano is very much about the use of language.  It is full of contradictions, and is designed to show how what we say can affect what we think. For example, we can say such absurd things as “That’s the ugliest pretty girl I’ve ever seen.” And what about the phrase “pretty ugly” meaning more than ordinarily ugly. Our language is full of such inconsistencies, and Ionesco has a field day pointing them out.

From my vantage here in 2010, it’s really obvious that The Bald Soprano was written back in the age before television became commonplace.  The opening assumption, that people would simply sit around in a room and talk to each other at night, seems ludicrous today.  Television, radio, computers, motion pictures, sporting events–people have a lot more to do today than they did in 1950.  But Mr. and Mrs. Smith, the Martins, the Fire Chief, and even the Maid have a compulsive need for conversation.  They will listen to even the most trivial of stories.  Such as, “A strange thing happened to me today.  I saw a man tying his shoe, right there on the sidewalk in public.” GASP!

The young people who put on the Bald Soprano are a lively and talented bunch.  I really enjoyed talking to them.  Here are some pictures from backstage.

Cassandra Barnes (in purple) plays Mrs. Smith, an English woman. She has the most lines. James St. Andre is taking the picture with his cell phone and using the mirror to get himself into the shot. He plays Mr. Smith, who has perfected the art of the meaningful "hmmm" as part of his nightly conversation.

 

Quincy Holden plays Mr. Martin, a victim of incredible coincidences.

 Mrs. Martin was played with verve and fire by Andrea Elena Villanueva.  Unfortunately, I never got a good picture of her.

Martin Ruan plays the Fire Chief. Apparently he wanders around London looking for fires to douse.

 

Jude Asadi plays Mary the Maid. She figures as the symbol of class discrimination in English society and may also be "The Great Detective".

 

When I was there, I had the pleasure of talking with most of the actors. I didn’t get to speak to either Mrs. Smith or Mrs. Martin.  I did get to talk to the Drama Department at Phoenix College, Professor Gerald Burgess.   I want to put in a shout here for Aurora, the assistant director; Julia, who runs the clock; Candice, and Tyler.  I’m sorry I don’t have pictures of them all. 

The Bald Soprano was directed by Mr. Gary Imel. I didn’t have the pleasure of meeting him on Wednesday night. He had been injured recently and had just gotten out of the hospital that afternoon.

Originally I had planned to have a lot more pictures, but somehow the flash got turned off on my camera and the shots I took during the play all came out looking like this:

If you look closely you can just make out Mr. and Mrs. Martin cuddling in the chair with Mary standing behind and to the side.

 

A major character in this production of the play is the clock.  Not only is it an irregular quadrangle, but the hands spin wildly backwards and forwards, and it chimes as loudly as Big Ben.  The beginning and ending of each scene was dominated by the clock, and all the actors stared at it as if hypnotized.  I couldn’t help but think it was some kind of mental monstrosity that  ruled all of the characters and made slaves of them. 

If you get a chance to attend live theater, by all means take it, my friends.  It is a totally different experience from going to the movies.  You will be amazed at how much the actors can memorize–at how they can lose themselves in their parts, and how they can bring other times and worlds to life for you. 

My thanks to all the members of the Phoenix College Acting Department who allowed me a backstage look at the Bald Soprano.  I enjoyed it very much. And I’ll be in the audience to see you all again before your production run is over.

EPILOG

There was a beautiful full moon in the sky when I returned with family and friends to see an official presentation of The  Bald Soprano and the second play called The Lesson.

The Moon is the big light object next to the tree at the top of the screen. I wondered how night time photography would come out with this camera.

 

Along with my wife Cathy and friends Diane and Harley Kluttz, I made my way back to see The Bald Soprano as it was meant to be seen.  The room was draped in black curtains and full of chairs.  They had an audience of about 20 people.  Bizarre atonal music played while we waited for the play to start.  At about 7:30 my son James St. Andre and the beautiful Cassandra Marie Barnes came out to start the play.  This time I was able to get a good picture of the Bald Soprano set.  If you add Mr. and Mrs. Smith in your imagination, you will have an idea of how it should look. (For reasons that defy logic, flash photography is forbidden during the show.)

It's watching you.

Now you can really see the weird clock whose chiming marks the end of every scene, and the beginnings of some of them.

 

I must say that watching the actual play is far superior to just watching a rehearsal.  The audience was laughing quietly all the way through.  The Bald Soprano is not a guffaw producing piece of theater, but it does evoke many a grim chuckle in the course of the evening.

During the intermission, they changed the set.  I got up, found a drinking fountain, and walked around a bit.  The other three members of my group stayed seated.  I got this picture of the new set and the back of my group’s heads.

A rather bleak set for The Lesson.

The lesson starred Matthew J. Stohr as the Professor and Cassandra Barnes as the pupil.  She played Mrs. Smith in the Soprano, so appearing twice, I guess she was the real star of the show.  Other players in the Lesson included Andrea Villanueva as Pupil #2 and Nadine Lockhart as Marie the Maid.

Three people in a row, backs of their heads. Wife Cathy on the left, then Diane, and then Harley who is James' best friend.

Cathy asked me what the connection was between the two plays.  There is a detailed answer that would spoil the ending. In short, the connection is the absurdities possible within the use of language.  The Bald Soprano’s use of language is more playful; the Lesson’s use is more grim; but both are equally absurd.

It was an evening well spent.

(end)

(Edited by James St. Andre, also known as Corencio or Mr. Smith)

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Posted November 20, 2010 by atroll in Uncategorized

One response to “Backstage at the Bald Soprano

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  1. It is awesome that you got to see an Ionesco play. I read a couple of compilations of them back in college (for fun, not class) and the Bald Soprano and the one about rhinos were my favorites. I never think to see what the local colleges are putting on, often for free.

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