You’re probably familiar with the number one rule of improvisation: “yes, and.” While scripted, the absurdist dialogue of The Bald Soprano indulges in no such formalities of agreement. The six characters of Eugene Ionesco’s play ignore the laws of language, contradicting both each other and themselves, occasionally pausing the narrative to recite bizarre poeticisms or truths. And, of course, hilarity ensues.
Not only does the content of the show defy the norms of theater, but so does the form. Uninformed viewers who arrive at 8:00 p.m. on Friday March 1, the show’s starting time, will be surprised to find that the play ends an hour later only to begin again — a neverending encore of sorts. This cycle will repeat for an entire day, the curtain opening and closing twenty four separate times. According to the poster, “audiences are welcome to stop by any time and witness these six actors transform the performance of a play into an uncompromising experiment in human endurance and the (possibly futile) ways we try to make sense of our world.” As the typical form of an orderly narrative disintegrates in front of audiences, the script’s hourly reset is sure to evoke both laughter and deeper philosophical questions.
But Ianesco is not the only one we have to thank for this novel piece of theater. This wild performance would not exist without the work of Swarthmore’s Theater Department. The department will be serving pancakes during the morning performances on March 2 to celebrate the piece directed by Visiting Assistant Theater Professor Alex Torra for the Senior Capstone. Not to mention the bravery of the six actors (Shelby Billups ’20 , Max Marckel ’19, Arijit Nerurkar ’19, Josie Ross ’21, Emily Uhlmann ’19, and John Wojciehowski ’19) must be acknowledged for putting their lives on hold for a day, foregoing a night of sleep to take the absurdity of the play to its limits. The six actors will all be onstage for each performance, their only breaks being their moments offstage. Still, the actors say the experience will be worth it.
“‘The Bald Soprano’ is about the existence or non-existence of meaning in our lives,” leading man Max Marckel ’19 remarked. “The characters cling to a semblance of organization and meaning but end up staring into the abyss of meaninglessness nonetheless. By repeating it for 24 hours, we as actors experience this downfall again and again, and it intensifies the absurdity and the questions of meaning in the play. The audience can watch this unfold, and dip their toes into the abyss along with us.”
While audiences may feel compelled to follow the typical norms of leaving after (what I’m sure will be plentiful) applause at the end of the show, viewers are recommended to at least wait for the opening scene of the next round. Not only does this participatory action conflict with typical theater-going expectations, but it makes the contrast between the ending of one show and the beginning of the next quite powerful. There may even be some switching of actors in character roles — an addition which further reveals the idiosyncrasies of social roles. As Marckel adds, “At the end, after a 24-hour free-fall into meaninglessness, we, wiser now, can all decide for ourselves whether we want meaning in our lives.”
The Bald Soprano will be performed from 8:00 p.m. on Friday March 1 until 8:00 p.m. on Saturday March 2 in the Lang Performing Art Center’s Frear Ensemble Theater, featuring Shelby Billups, Max Marckel, Arijit Nerurkar, Josie Ross, Emily Uhlmann, and John Wojciehowski.