It was just another absurdist, edgy, Devo-like evening for us last night at the opening of The Bald Soprano at The Cutting Ball Theater in San Francisco.
Experimental theater I’m guessing is a lot like experimental drugs. It seems like a good idea at the time; there are colors, happiness, laughing. Near the end, people bounce off walls. Literally.
But the next day you ask yourself, if any of it made sense. And would you do it again?
It reminds me of a girl I dated in University. She was really nice, and into arts and avant-garde stuff—this at a time when my definition of cool was Duran Duran. She invited me to one of her performances. In it, she wore a black, head-to-toe, stretch outfit.
Then she’d perform all kinds of yoga style moves in a big black fabric box. Later, she asked me what I thought. I said it was really—really, really—cool. But I was thinking to myself that it really looked like someone dressed in a black, head-to-toe, stretch outfit performing all kinds of yoga moves in a big black fabric box.
And so it goes. With experimental theater, you either take the leap and get it, or you don’t. With The Bald Soprano I was with it for about 50% of the material. It helps if you enjoy verbal gymnastics. Towards the end it devolves into—at times very amusing—crazy exhibition of the absurd, with actors fully committing to the inexplicable. Kudos for that.
The play was written by Franco-Romanian playwright Eugène Ionesco and apparently has a record number of interpretations, making it one of the most performed plays in France.
The “story” is almost not worth explaining, since it’s not really the point here. We are challenged with a repartee of dialog, plays on words, awkward silences, and physical oddities that can simultaneously amuse and frustrate. At times, it’s a test of patience. Thankfully, it’s only 65 minutes. Any longer and I think my mind would melt.
Set in the “outskirts” of London, it might as well take place on Pluto.
“A clock with a contradictory spirit.”
Cutting Box does a good job with this production though. The set is minimalist, modern. And the actors submerse themselves into an absurdist world where Devo probably rules. It’s all about retro-chique, funky glasses, polite manners, and stimulating conversations. And especially stories. Oh, the stories! The snake and the fox!
Rob Melrose, who also directed the superb The Creature across town, captures the nuances, quirkiness that gives way to off-the-wall, physical insanity with precision.
“How curious! Indeed, how curious. And what a bizarre coincidence!”
The set, a couch and two leather chairs, reminds me of At Home At The Zoo, as does some of the tennis-match banter that ensues. Other times, it’s like Tony Kushner’s Tiny Kushner one act plays, sans satire, political references and social commentary. Mostly, though, it was like out-takes from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but know what you’re getting into, before taking this trip.
If you enjoy artsy, experimental theater, you’ll definitely enjoy The Bald Soprano. It’s wonderful that Rob Melrose and The Cutting Theater takes these risks to bring us such challenging, eclectic material.