Nothing is ever what it seems to be about with Ionesco. He is pointing at the sky but speaking of the earth. He is pointing at you but talking about himself. You are on permanent notice that the ground is shifting under you and will stay in motion for the duration.
In the first act of this three hour behemoth Berenger (Michael Shannon) is taking a rout of the Radiant City which is a very special part of town designed by the Architect (Robert Stanton). It is a Disney sort of place. Made to look real but imperfect in every way, including the fact that its inhabitants are being murdered and tossed into a lagoon. The perpetrator’s existence is known to all, but there is little to be done about it. Life is not fair.
In the second act Berenger returns to his the room he rents from his Concierge (Kristine Nielsen) he discovers his old friend Edward (Paul Sparks) who is more of a shadow than a mortal. As the act progresses it becomes clear that Edward is the murderer, although this fact completely eludes Berenger. Edward cleverly leaves the evidence in Berenger’s room and they set out to find the police.
They are waylaid by a protest and police action that prevents them completing their mission. Edward is discovered not to have the briefcase and Berenger sends him to recover it, which of course he never does. Berenger continues on to the Police but soon discovers that he is too late. Alone on the road he does not know which way to go. Finally he is confronted by man to whom Ionesco refers as The Killer, which makes us all wonder about Edward. The killer says nothing, chuckles on cue, and listens to Berenger as he literally deflates. He poses questions, theories, propositions. He demands, he begs, he pleads. He reasons, he questions, he demands. The play rolls to a dead stop with him asking the Killer who is holding a knife My God, there’s nothing you can do – what can you do? – what can you do?
Answer: I don’t know. This play is directed with such a heavy hand that it can hardly breath. Unlike the successful Exit the King on Broadway in 2009, this production has no color, no nuance, no joi de vivre. Granted, this is not a happy play. But it is filled with language that has light and life in it. None of that is allowed to happen here.
It is a leaden production that will weigh so heavily you may have trouble getting out of you seat when you are finally set free. Unfortunate.
By Eugene Ionesco, translated by Michael Feingold; directed by Darko Tresnjak
WITH: Brendan Averett (Bartender/First Policeman), Stephanie Bunch (Dennie), Liam Craig (the Bum/First Man/the Drunk), Kristine Nielsen (Concierge/Ma Piper), Gregor Paslawsky (Second Old Man), Ryan Quinn (Second Man/Postman/the Killer), Michael Shannon (Berenger), Noble Shropshire (First Old Man/Old Gent), Paul Sparks (Edward), Robert Stanton (the Architect), Gordon Tashjian (Second Policeman) and Ariel Zuckerman (Young Soldier).
Sets and costumes by Suttirat Larlarb; lighting by Matthew Richards; music and sound by Jane Shaw; fight director, J. Allen Suddeth; voice director, Andrew Wade; dramaturge, Jonathan Kalb; production stage manager, Cole Bonenberger; casting, Deborah Brown; general manager, Michael Page; production manager, Kat Tharp. Presented by Theater for a New Audience, Jeffrey Horowitz, artistic director; Henry Christensen III, chairman; Dorothy Ryan, managing director, executive director. At the Polonsky Shakespeare Center, 262 Ashland Place, between Lafayette Avenue and Fulton Street, Fort Greene, Brooklyn, 866-811-4111, tfana.org. Through June 29. Running time: three hours.