by Carol Rocamora
Watch out for that cake!
You don’t have to cross the Atlantic to see fabulous French farce at its finest. Just over the Brooklyn Bridge at BAM, a terrific troupe of actors from Paris’s Théâtre de la Ville is making mayhem with a mash-up of Ionesco farces that’s as fantastically funny as you’ll ever see.
Director Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota and his seven merry mockers have dug into five farces by the famous Romanian born French author (The Bald Soprano, The Lesson, Frenzy for Two, or More, Jack, or The Submission, and French Conversation and Diction Exercises for American Students.) From these absurdist romps, they’ve excised a series of scenes woven together into a wild ninety-minute ride.
The result? “Ionesco Plus Improv Equals Insanity!” Staged around a long white table, the scenes feature family gatherings, weddings, and birthdays. Actors play multiple roles, switching partners and genders, exchanging sequined berets for party hats and trousers for dresses. They play family games, love games and nonsensical word games. They marry, fight, and reconcile. Mother berates son, sister berates brother, husband berates wife, and so on. All these antics are performed in an exaggerated acting style, combining classical commedia dell’arte, mime and slapstick technique with the madcap energy of the Monte Pythons, Flying Karamazov Brothers, and SNL.
And then there’s that cake – first for a wedding, then for a birthday party. It’s a classical farcical routine that always delivers – and in the hands of the virtuoso troupe (and I mean literally in their hands, as well as on their faces and bodies and all over the set), it’s delicious slapstick. Oh, and look out for the splashing champagne, too – the cast is eventually drenched in it. (Kudos to the ensemble for their virtuoso performances –
Charles-Roger Bour, Jauris Casanova, Sandra Faure, Sarah Karbasnikoff, Stéphanie Krähenbühl, Walter N’Guyen, Gérald Maillet. The sets and lighting are by Yves Collet the colorful costumes are by Fanny Brouste.)
One of my favorite scenes is the door-bell-ringing sequence from The Bald Soprano, when the cast debates whether – if the bell rings – there is someone there or not. It turns out to be a fireman, who blows out the cake candles with a fire extinguisher.
Another of my favorites is from The Lesson, where le professeur drills his student in mathematics. The young girl (a male actor in a blond wig) is brilliant at addition, but can’t subtract. Her failed attempts at answering his questions (“four minus three equals…four?”, etc.) reveal the darker, surreal side of Ionesco’s farce: namely, that the student cannot think for herself – she can only memorize and regurgitate what she’s taught (i.e. propaganda. Note: The Lesson was Ionesco’s anti-Nazi parable about the subjugation of the masses to a tyrannical leader.)
“You can’t have an answer without a question,” says one actor in the finale, as the company recites a cascade of Ionescan absurdist phrases from The Bald Soprano that make complete sense… until they don’t (“ca ca ca ca” etc.) This is classical theatre of the absurd at its finest.
Photos: Ed Lefkowicz
Ionesco Suite, Théâtre de la Ville, based on texts by Eugène Ionesco, directed by Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota, at BAM Fisher until January 26.