A Basket of Eggs, a Sack of Limes and a Smartphone

06/22/2011 4:00 AM |

The Future is in Eggs
Written by Eugene Ionesco
Sicilian Limes
Written by Luigi Pirandello
Directed by Joseph Hendel

Going out to the theater is a social act, shared, arguably communal. But at the same time, each individual's experience is just that: individual. Expression, verbal and visual, is processed at different times, in different ways; language, references, allusions are understood, or not. Joseph Hendel's thought-provoking, concept-driven direction of Lauren Rayner's Night of Deadly Serious Comedies at the Turtle Shell Theater (through June 26) aims to exacerbate this disconnect by raising the same ear-bud barriers between audience-members that commuters use to tune each other out. Hendel sets an experimental iPhone-aided, pantomimed version of Luigi Pirandello's 1910 Absurdist-anticipating one-act comedy Sicilian Limes against a relatively conventional staging of Eugene Ionesco's staunchly unconventional, equally obscure and inaccessible 1960 farce, The Future is in Eggs.

These two plays about progress, unease over the past, anxiety for the future, go together particularly well because of their seemingly unstructured slew of nonsense, mechanical speech and use of grotesque caricature. Ionesco's Eggs depicts a family interfering with the arranged marriage of Jacques (Brendan Sokler) and Roberta (Skylar Saltz), calling for "Production! Production!" They have Jacques strapped to a "hatching apparatus" at one point and ask, "What are we going to make of the offspring?" The collective reply: "Sausage meat! Cannon fodder! Bankers and pigs… Omelets! Lots of omelets!" Performing in whiteface, the players exaggerate their characters to a kind of limitless grotesque. Unfortunately, the cast lacks some of the comedic timing that could turn some obnoxious moments funny, the vulgar into the profound.

Pirandello's less overtly absurd Limes follows Micuccio (Bradley J. Sumner), a musician coming to a North Italian town to reunite with the singer Sina Marnis (Skylar Saltz), a star he was the first to discover. He comes from their Sicilian hometown bearing limes and unresolved issues. Not coincidentally, both plays conclude with their titular edibles scattered across the stage. The performance of Limes is more successful than Eggs as it's better able to boil down the text and capture what Brecht called the "gestus," the gist, the simple, lasting stage image that manages to get across what words fail to communicate. The actors pantomime the scripts exceptionally while their recorded dialogue, recited near-monotonously, is broadcast through a downloadable app (luddites like myself are provided with mp3 players instead). For all its logistical kinks, this fairly radical way of processing dramatic expression turns out to be surprisingly moving, whether or not the audience ever manages to sync up.

(Photo: Mike Olivieri)