It is always interesting to see what a contemporary theater company will do with a classic play; to see how they will relate it to our current times or extend its themes to relate to us. At the start of One Year Lease's production of Eugene Ionesco's The Bald Soprano, a calm voice intones over the loudspeaker. It issues general etiquette instructions as well as suggestions for what to do in case of a fire. The instructions are banal — servants should stand to the side of the door while guests enter, when you hear the word "fire," you should touch the side of the stage — and provide a perfect pre-show setting for the play as a well as a subtle suggestion as to what the company has done with the show. While studying English, Ionesco was taken with the obviousness of the phrases and dialogues in his primer. He learned, though he already knew, that the floor was down, the ceiling was up. The result was The Bald Soprano, where two English couples, Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Mr. and Mrs. Martin, get together for a dinner party. The stilted language at the beginning of the play: "There, it's nine o'clock. We've drunk the soup and eaten the fish and chips, and the English salad" soon gives way to silliness and nonsense, with, for instance, one set of couples pretending they had only just met, although they share the same bedroom, and same bed, and it seems, the same child. The play concludes with the characters shouting out non sequiturs such as “don't smooch my brooch!” and “the pope elopes! The pope's got no horoscope.” The shift is indicative of, as director Ianthe Demos notes, the collapse of the truths by which the characters live.
One Year Lease's production takes the collapse of truth one step further by performing The Bald Soprano as a structured improv. The world of The Bald Soprano is one in which "history has taken second place to the immediate and transitory. The result is a constant reconstruction of our reality." The text remains the same, yet the actors take subtle cues from each other so as to constantly change the physicality of the piece. A character leans, the others follow. A chair is raised, the others follow. This may be a production worth seeing several times, just so that one can see the shift in the show from night to night based on which cues are given and which are not.
The production is crisp and energetic, with the actors working together as a true ensemble. The stage is a circular platform surrounded by white curtains that the Maid and the Smiths snap open and shut. The costumes are prim and ever so proper, a perfect counterpoint for when the Smiths and Martins are rolling about on the floor, attempting to tear each others' eyes out. That said, the actor's physicality is impressive. Their movements are fluid, whether they brandishing their chairs as weapons or dragging themselves across the floor during a brutal fight. It is never clear who is the leader and who are the followers in the improvs or if they are in fact improvising at all.
The Bald Soprano is a pleasant reminder of the absurdity of life, and is particularly useful now when everything seems to have to be steeped in meaning. In light of that, it is often a delight to delight in the banal and One Year Lease certainly succeeds in finding the joy in nothing.