Subversive Theatre asked me to play elevator man for patrons of their TOO ABSURD! production, consisting of two 'Theatre of The Absurd" plays on Friday night. I transport audience who can't surmount the three flights of cold hard stairs, on a freight elevator to Subversive's home space on the third floor of The Great Arrow Building, a mostly empty, sprawling industrial complex that once housed The Pierce Arrow Corporation, a manufacturer of luxury cars circa 1910. The building now provides cocooned space to theatre, (Alt Theatre is also in residence there), and sparsely set offices.
Upon boarding the ancient steel and wood freight elevator, that looks like a certain death trap, but glides with the gentleness of a paper airplane, I always yell to the mostly elderly riders, "GOING UP!", to absolutely on one's amusement. Indeed, when the steel gated frame locks us in with a crash, and the heavy wooden doors are slammed shut, and suddenly I can't get the damn thing to go up or down, the look on the concerned faces seem to say, next stop hell.
I stayed for the show. The theatre space was trashed with old newspapers discarded on the floor under and around the seats of the audience. I don't know why, except to say it was absurd. The subsequent plays seemed to have nothing in common with old newspapers.
The first play, absurdist dramatist Eugene Ionesco's "The Lesson", directed by Drew McCabe, finds a maniacal academic professor, (James Wild), badgering a pupil, (Jessica Wegzryn), into submission under the guise of tutoring. The lesson taught involves simple arithmetic, a breeze for the excited and hopeful student, and subtraction, to which she is inept. It evolves into a lesson on sub-languages of Spanish. The play is fun and thought provokingly tragic, and not illogical in it's portrait of an intellectual dominance over the illiterate. Wild paces and stalks the stage like a schizophrenic caged leopard on meds, and Wegzryn's harried student suffers an empathetic breakdown under the weight of a math equation. Both actors take this absurdist play and dance merrily around the logic of Darwin's theory of survival.
"On The Sea", by Polish writer, Slawomir Mrozek, directed here by Mark Tattenbaum, certainly inspired Monty Python's Flying Circus' classic sketch of cannibalistic sailors at sea, ("I wish you'd all quit bickering and eat ME!"). The fun reference to Python is in cold contrast to a notoriety in writer Mrozek's life. In 1953, during the reign of Stalinism in Poland, Mrozek participated in the signing of a letter to Polish authorities, groundlessly accusing three Catholic priests of treason. The priests were condemned to death but never executed.
The director of the first production of "On The Sea", in Poland in 1961, was in attendance at this performance. Three men, a fat one, (Kurt Erb, not nearly fat), a thin one, (Matt Nerber), and a medium one, (David Utter), as listed in the program, are adrift at sea without food and determine their only means of survival is for one of them to be eaten by the others. They draw lots, stage a democratic election, and finally two conspire to eat the third. The play is a lighter absurdity than it's predecessor, with the medium man daintily setting a makeshift dinner table, ("Does the little fork go on the right or left?"), and the unfortunate object of dinner scrambling to find a way out of his predicament, ("I am poisoned,...I have an infected liver,...one leg is shorter than the other"). They are briefly joined by two women, a post woman, (Jennabeth Stockman), and a maid, (Kelsey Arlen), who swim aboard to report news from land, ("You have a message on your cell phone"), certainly an update of the original script. The play was odd and funny, beginning with a ridiculous ukelele strummed Hawaiian novelty song, sung quite well by the three men, and ending with the proclamation of individual rights by the soon to be eaten dinner guest.
Both plays offer not a frustrating wonderment, but insightful, albeit absurd comments on the privileged gentry eating alive the common man.