PROVIDENCE, RI – Now that Providence's Perishable Theater has faded away another troupe, the Wilbury Group, has temporarily moved in. And instead of doing new experimental plays, the Wilbury is presenting what you might call a "classic' Theater of the Absurd work.
Well, the Rumanian-born French author Eugene Ionesco never quite cottoned to the term Theatre of the Absurd; that was placed on him by the late critic Martin Esslin. But surely this Wilbury Group piece, called "Exit the King" has plenty of wonderful nonsense throughout.
Ionescu, after all, believed that writing straight-forward, naturalistic theater was a waste of time. It was merely the "narrow truth" of "realism," he said. Take that Arthur Miller.
No, Ionesco was after the freeing use of what he called "imaginative truth." He often used his dreams as jumping off points. That certainly could be the way 1962's "Exit the King" began. We are immediately thrown into the midst of a nation in despair. After all, for the last 400 years the King has been making a mess of things. The culmination of his reign is now collapsing upon the poor souls around him.The kingdom has no young people. It's broke. It's filled with lament. And there sits His Majesty believing all is just fine. His first Queen and his second tell him no. There's snow on the sun, they scream. Swimming pools are on fire, the bistros are empty. We even had to hock the palace washing machine! The Palace doctor arrives, his white coat covered with blood. The maid, bless her, does all she can, but she aches from overwork. The palace guard stands at stiff attention, ineffective completely. From there, things get worse.
Thank goodness then, this production, directed by Rebecca Noon and Josh Short is a well-done farce by a skilled cast. "Exit the King" is very funny and without doubt you could take it to be a modern piercing of world conditions. The current problems of the United States maybe? Or of the Euro Zone? But Ionesco is on a more personal scale. In the end, "Exit the King" concerns the inevitability of death. The king is dying, but how to convince him of it. His wives try. The doctor weighs in. The maid helps, the guard, ah, guards.
But his majesty can't - or won't - see it. He becomes Everyman fighting, hoping, denying, his mortality, battling his loss of control.
This production continues to be funny almost to the end. But it does, just, get through to the pathos involved in one man - and therefore all of us - having to face the inevitable.
The cast is splendid. Perhaps too young for his role, Jed Hancock-Brainerd still finds the need of the King to fight against the dying of the light. His Queens, director Noon and Lara Maynard, never let up in their efforts to find realism amid the farce. As the guard, Jeff Hodges is a sporadic hoot and Melissa Bowler is simply wonderful, both comic and real, as the maid.
True enough, at an hour and 45 minutes "Exit the King" is something of a task in the crowded , crunched together Perishable space. An intermission might have been a good idea.
But this work still has a powerful point to make.
"Perhaps there will be a morning of grace for humanity, " Eugene Ionescu once wrote. "Perhaps there will be a morning of grace for me."
He speaks for many of us.
Want to Go?
"Exit the King" continues at the Perishable Theatre space at 95 Empire Street in Providence through January 15th.
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