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Ionesco's 'Exit the King' has audiences howling

By David Begelman, News-Times


In Eugène Ionesco's masterful drama, "Exit the King" ("Le Roi se meurt" in the original French), the 400-year-old King Berenger's world is closer to collapse than he ever imagined. The sea surrounding the kingdom has crashed through the dikes and flooded the land. Even the Milky Way is beginning to curdle, and his highness is reminded that "nothing is abnormal when abnormal is normal."

To make matters worse, the king's first queen, Marguerite (he has a second, younger queen, Marie, in attendance as a royal prerogative) reminds him he will live only as long as it takes to finish the play he is in.

As it turns out, the king's time on earth may vary from production to production. Jane Farnol's hilarious, but more abbreviated staging of Donald Watson's translation of the play at New Milford's TheatreWorks, is one hour without intermission. In the Neil Armfield and Geoffrey Rush adaptation of the play on Broadway, it was 90 minutes.

It's a mystery why this drama by the author of "The Rhinoceros" and "The Bald Soprano" is not performed more often on American stages. It is certainly one of the dramatist's most impressive works, puncturing as it does the follies of royalty, not to mention humanity at large.

The Ionesco spin on resisting the clammy proximity of death in a world that no longer matters resonates with themes from the playwright's life. He reported that once under a summer sun, he suddenly became aware of a world "emptied of meaning."

Ionesco has been described as an "absurdist" playwright, like Samuel Beckett. Yet the latter's world is one in which language and experience are disconnected against the backdrop of an elusive reality. Ionesco strikes a different note: the rejection of the tangible world altogether.

While director Farnol has her production emphasizing its comic dimension, the play's darker side is minimized in the New Milford staging. Accordingly, the balance between the comic and tragic aspects of the drama is obscured.

All the same, Farnol's cast put its best foot forward drawing an enthusiastic audience response. Mark Feltch (King Berenger -- whether clinging to the remaining days of his life, or collapsing into a wheelchair -- is arresting as the central character, while Jude Callirgos Robinson (Queen Marguerite) is impressive as the haughty potentate who radiates a voice of realism. Kyle Minor (The Doctor) as court physician, astrologer, and all-around pontificator, was commanding in his role, while John Fabiani (The Guard), Paul Digati Robinson (Juliette), and Susan Abrams (Queen Marie) contributed solidly to the production.

Scott Wyshynski and Richard Pettibone's lighting design enhanced production values, while Jane Farnol and Glenn Couture's set was artfully designed to grace ongoing action.

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