Review: THE BALD SOPRANO (La Cantatrice Chauve)

by Lynn on October 26, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Berkeley Street Theatre, Upstairs, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Eugène Ionesco

Directed by Chanda Gibson

Set by Alexandra Lord

Costumes by Yvan Castonguay

Lighting by Glenn Davidson

Sound environment by Ben Gibson

Cast: Sébastien Bertrand

Sophie Goulet

Geneviève Langlois

Pierre Simpson

Christiana Tannous

Manuel Verreydt

The Bald Soprano is Eugène Ionesco’s first play. It was produced in 1950 and after a rocky start has gained ‘classic’ status as a model for the theatrical genre known as “Theatre of the Absurd.”

Mr. and Mrs. Smith live in the suburbs of London, England. They have just finished their dinner. The clock strikes 17. Mrs. Smith says that it’s nine o’clock. The clock strikes seven a few minutes later. Then it strikes five. Mr. Smith reads the newspaper while Mrs. Smith talks about the various qualities of oil that come from the various grocers in the area. The conversation is banal. The doorbell rings and Mary the Maid  answers it. It’s Mr. and Mrs. Martin who seem to be late for dinner. Mr. and Mrs. Smith got tired of waiting for them and ate dinner anyway. When Mr. and Mrs. Martin arrive, Mr. and Mrs. Smith leave the room. Mr. and Mrs. Martin carry on a conversation with each other as if they don’t realize they are married. Rather they say that the other looks familiar and so they then ask each other questions to narrow down how and why they might know each other. The Captain of the Fire Brigade arrives looking for a fire and can’t find one there. Then they all seem to loop back to the beginning only this time Mr. and Mrs. Martin begin the play in the same way that it opened perhaps suggesting that Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Mr. and Mrs. Martin are interchangeable. That’s the fun of the play. Truly. Ionesco is messing with our heads, bless him.

It’s all decidedly absurd. Is Ionesco commenting on the absurdity of life? No argument there. Is he commenting on the banality of conversation and relationships? Perhaps. If anything a play written and produced almost 70 years ago certainly is applicable to today when everybody seems to be on their cell phones in order to be ‘connected’ but have no idea of where they are or where they are going because they are bent over and glued to that glowing screen. People don’t know how to engage with others face to face or have a conversation that is articulate. Now that is absurd.

Chanda Gibson has directed a production that is bristling with invention, wit and brains. It pops with humour and irony. Alexandra Lord’s set is stylish and suggests Mr and Mrs. Smith have taste and money to appreciate it. Mr. and Mrs. Smith are so entrenched in their daily routine that Chandra Gibson has them move like graceful robots. Mrs. Smith (Geneviève Langlois) is dressed in a sleek form-fitting dress which she smooths in precise sweeps of her hands down the creases. (Kudos to Yvan Castonguay for the stylish costumes) Mrs. Smith’s arms and legs move stiffly, as per a robot. She sits precisely and crosses her legs in the same way. Mr. Smith (Manuel Verreydt) moves like a robot until his gets to his chair and then snaps his paper open and reads. The movement for Mr. and Mrs. Martin (Pierre Simpson and Sophie Goulet respectively) is just as precise. Mr. Martin crosses his legs and turns to one side for his pose. Sophie Goulet is a touch perky in her movement. Sébastien Bertrand is a very confident Captain of the Fire Brigade. Much is made of his supposed diminutive stature. It works a treat. Christina Tannous is the disdainful Maid and she sings in a powerful soprano voice.

Interestingly every word that is spoken is translated into English surtitles above the stage except when the Maid sings. There are no surtitles at all to tell us what she is singing. From my rough French it sounds as if the Maid is introducing the people in the house, namely Mr. and Mrs. Smith.

Everything about this production serves the play and does it with great care. The result is hilarious, and we spend a lot of time pondering it all.

The Soprano/Maid (Christina Tannous) is not bald. But she is pregnant.

Théâtre français de Toronto presents:

Opened: Oct. 23, 2019.

Closes: Nov. 3, 2019.

Running Time: 75 minutes, without an intermission

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1 Nina Okens October 27, 2019 at 8:22 pm

The maid is singing the stage directions in Italian, hence the lack of surtitles.