Classic absurdist theatre comes to the Toronto stage
Unusual living room conversations are to be heard in The Bald Soprano (La Cantatrice Chauve). At the Théâtre francais de Toronto, this absurdist classic from Eugene Ionesco is performed in French and has English sur-titles.
The story takes place in the London home of a well-to-do couple Mr. and Mrs. Smith (Manuel Verreydt and Geneviève Langlois). They have disconnected conversations that are petty in nature. Then Mr. and Mrs. Martin arrive (Pierre Simpson and Sophie Goulet), and they don’t realize they’re married to each other until they find out they have the same daughter and live at the same address. Make sense?
The set by Alexandra Lord is sleek and streamlined with four chairs, a metronome, gong and two doorways. The hard lines of the setting reflect the lack of warmth among the characters. The doorways on opposite sides of the stage give us an opportunity to watch Mrs. Smith robotically open each door and notice her extremely mechanical gait.
We enjoyed the strong soprano voice by the maid Mary (Christina Tannous). Other sound elements by Ben Gibson tied the musical elements together. The metronome’s ticking, controlled by Mary, either builds or curbs tension in certain scenes. The gong is also an important percussion instrument, again mastered by Mary rather than her employer, that helps transition between one conversation to the next. Mary’s control leads us to think that Mr. and Mrs. Smith are too mindless to lead anything.
Themes of mindlessness and nonsensical communication seem to be the point of Ionesco’s play. Whether the topic is about a whole family in which everyone is named Bobby Watson, about whether or not doorbells signal that someone is indeed at the door, or about the potential location of a fire that the firefighter (Sébastien Bertrand) can extinguish, The Bald Soprano emphasizes the lack of connection between people. Though written in 1950, I wondered if this might parallel the communication break-downs and social media artifice of today’s world?
The characterization in the costumes is remarkable, especially the overall look of Mrs. Martin, played by Geneviève Langlois. Costume designer Yvan Castonguay gives her a tightly fitted dress and tightly curled bangs that match her tightly pursed lips and tightly crossed legs. Speaking of legs, Langlois needs to repeatedly slap her left thigh to get it to cross over her right leg, and it’s just as hilarious as watching her robotically walk in high heels. Langlois is the stand-out performance of the night.
The severity of Langlois contrasts well with the aloofness of Verreydt, the sweetness of Goulet and the simple-mindedness of Simpson. These four strong actors have good chemistry and are united in their bourgeoisie. When Mr. and Mrs. Martin end up making a key transformation at the end of the play, it is totally believable.
All in all, The Bald Soprano is a excellent, well-played production for audiences who appreciate bold, experimental theatre. I liked it less for the absurdity, but more for the commitment to the story from the actors. It must be hard to pull off a show with no conventional plot, but the team fully embraced their characters.
- The Bald Soprano is playing until November 3, 2019 at the Berkeley Street Theatre (26 Berkeley Street)
- Shows run Wednesday to Friday at 8 PM, Saturday 3:30 PM and Sunday at 2:30 PM
- Ticket prices range from $20 to $49. Pay What You Can on Wednesdays and Thursdays
- Tickets are available online, by phone at 416.534.6604, or in person at the box office
- Show is 74 minutes long, with no intermission
- English sur-titles are available on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday
Photo of Christina Tannous, Sophie Goulet, Pierre Simpson, Manuel Verreydt, Geneviève Langlois, Sébastien Bertrand by Théo Belnou