Cheyenne Dorsagno, Copy Editor
On October 15, SUNY Oneonta’s Hamblin Theatre was permeated by otherworldly music which featured a piano traveling up and down in pitch behind oddly spiritual vocals that sounded like gibberish. The living room was colorful with mismatched patterns alluding to the traditionally mundane familial conflicts to come that writer Eugene Ionesco has made ridiculous and deranged.
“The Bald Soprano” and “Jack, Or The Submission” are similar, one act, absurdist pieces. Absurdist theater includes philosophical commentary on humanity’s irrational compulsion to define and limit everything that we likely do not have the capacity to fully understand the true nature and reality of. While this approach can be hard to follow, it is wildly unique and fun to interpret.
“The Bald Soprano” followed the boring, condescending conversations between the Smiths, a refined couple. Their maid, Sherlock Holmes, let in the Watson couple as they had been invited over for dinner. The Watsons, in their lack of appreciation for one another, had at first forgotten each other and eventually deduced that they were married. The pairs got together to undergo a test of the sexes, good etiquette, hidden desire, everyday expectations, and the ability to make routine life interesting.
“Jack, Or The Submission” told the tale of a presumably lower middle class family. The parents, grandparents, and sister of Jack all agonized over his behavior and whether or not he should be disowned from the family. After forgiving him once he claimed his love for hashed brown potatoes, the family only withdrew from him again after he rejected his three-nosed bride for being too pretty.
The importance of time in “The Bald Soprano” became obvious when the grandfather clock became illuminated with an unreadable format, the face of another clock marked the ceiling, and tick-tocking sounded. The hands of the clocks quickly rounded during the slow scenes as if to emphasize how little happened to the couple throughout their lives. The hair, makeup, and costumes in this play looked authentically expensive, old fashion, and structured.
Likewise, “Jack, Or The Submission” utilized everyday attire and cracked cement walls to portray a more average family (for whatever world they were in). The lighting turned red during conversations of pain or fire and then blue for water or resolution. The son, Jack, at first, was not seen and only heard through a speaker, indicating his pressure to conform and lack of identity until he finally came forward because his bride made him comfortable by accepting that he was “different from the others.” The props, such as the handkerchiefs that everyone melodramatically sobbed into and the crutches as well as boyish clothes that the “crippled” son clearly overgrew, only enriched the extremism and meaning of the play.
All of the actors performed fantastically. Elizabeth Reinertsen stood out with her roles as Mrs. Watson and Mother Jack while Austin McClaslin-Doyle performed similarly as Mr. Smith and Father Jack. They remembered their lines perfectly and spoke them naturally, though with the greatest emotion, humor, and interest of all of the actors. The dashes around the furniture and walls in both plays resembled those that guide scissors as if to speak to the way the characters’ lives were cookie-cutter. All of these elements enhanced the quirky, pleasurable, and yet perplexing experience.
The aforementioned tools they used — such as the set, lighting, sound, and costumes — subscribed to some real life norms while including some imagined ones to point out the absurdity of our societal standards. The theme of both of these plays was not only to mock our customs but to claim the immorality of their pressures and to remind the audience that they are man-made. Some characters maddeningly repeated themselves as if they were malfunctioning and needed to be smacked out of their craze. Jack’s sister obviously watched her mother and desperately mimicked her actions.
The looks and interests of the characters mistakenly defined them even if, oddly to us, it was by ugliness rather than beauty or one’s love for hash brown potatoes rather than a certain religion, sex, etc. While their verbal expressions and body language seemed strange to the viewers, every culture holds variations of these standard conventions. The ending of “The Bald Soprano” with the Watsons repeating the opening scene performed by the Smiths perfectly represented how these people were institutionalized and interchangeable.