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Eugene Ionesco, the French playwright, was one of the first to write plays and screenplays that were of the Absurdist genre. These plays seemed to do nothing. There was no discernable plot, very little action, and the dialogue seemed to talk an awful lot but say nothing at all; indeed, that was the whole point. It was Ionesco’s intent to write dialogue so absurd it was comical, and he was successful with such plays as Rhinoceros and the one-act short The Bald Soprano.
Act One Act Now is a Chapel Hill-based theatrical company that selects its cast and crew from the younger set — teens, for the most part. Under the direction of John Paul Middlesworth, Act One Act Now strives to bring together the young actor and the playwright, with the culmination of the teaching being a performance for the community. This one-evening presentation combined Ionesco’s The Bald Soprano with a short piece designed to introduce us to the genre, Trouble in the Works, by Harold Pinter.
Trouble in the Works is a short scene in which employer Mr. Fibbs (John Paul Middlesworth) discusses trouble brewing on the factory floor with his manager, Mr. Wills (Ian Bowater). The workers, it seems, have gone off the products they are making, and refuse to make them anymore. The humor of the piece comes from the items normally made in the factory; each singular item becomes more fantastical than the last. Middlesworth and Bowater handled the dialogue beautifully, having no trouble at all in rattling off title after title of each more absurd product, until we cannot help but laugh.
The Bald Soprano is a one-act play running about forty-five minutes with a cast of six and a small, intimate setting of an English sitting room. Ionesco emphasizes that everything, from the house to the fire in the fireplace, is English. It’s a typical middle-class evening, Mr. and Mrs. Smith (Noah Clapacs and Olivia Garcia) are entertaining Mr. and Mrs. Martin (Daniel Parks and Molly Horan). Mary, the maid (Ingrid Trost) runs in and out and also receives the guest of the evening, the local Fire Chief (Lilith Hart).
Garcia, as hostess, handled her position with aplomb as she talked with her guests and sparred with her partner, Clapacs had great fun with his “now see here” kind of host who seemed to know everything. There is a fun moment onstage while the Martins are waiting for their hosts to come down, wherein Mr. Martin reacquaints himself with his wife, whom he seems to have misplaced lately. Once the two are properly reintroduced and reacquainted, the hosts enter, and the evening begins. What we have come to know as small talk is the center of attention, and it seems to deteriorate into nonsense very quickly. Our four main characters handled the nonsensical dialogue easily, which made the scene even funnier. While the dialogue was fired back and forth, not a cue was dropped nor a line mishandled, which is exceptionally hard to do when what you have to say may or may not have anything to do with what has gone before.
Trost, as the typical English maid, was unhappy at the fact that she was more or less left out of the evening, and was nonplussed when her employer literally took her offstage in the middle of the poem she had wished to recite. Hart, as the fireman, who was here “on official business,” had her character down and her dialogue snappy, but she failed to rid herself of the demeanor of a deer in the headlamps.
These actors formed a fine ensemble and handled the play well, as any good comedy should. The dialogue was swift and tight, the characters were well formed, and the play had good timing. It is a feather in the cap of director John Paul Middlesworth that these young actors were more than comfortable with their subject and could handle the complex dialogue adroitly.
You can find out more about Act One Act Now by visiting their website, linked above. Some plays being considered for 2014 are Little Women, Sorry! Wrong Number, All in the Timing, and The Pot Boiler.