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    Vicount us out

    The Ionesco Festival puts on the unfinished, previously unperformed and somewhat unimpressive absurdist play "The Viscount," with an unintended twist due to last week's tragic events.


    The high point of this play as performed on Sept. 14 will, I'm afraid, be denied anyone who watches it under normal circumstances. The performance overall is much what you'd expect from the theater of the absurd: improbable wigs, pseudo-European accents, and arguments over nothing that go nowhere but last interminably. This unfinished, never-before-produced (according to the producers and a quick Internet search) Ionesco work had very funny moments, no question, but was a little like watching an average Monty Python or improv sketch that had somehow been allowed to stretch on for 40 minutes.

    Written by: Eugene Ionesco.
    Directed by: Jan W. Hill.
    Cast: Gerald Marsini, Rasheed Hinds, Dan Maccarone, Art Wallace, Bryan Enk, Jan W. Hill, Michelle Schlossberg.
    At the center of the play are three aristocrats playing a parlor game that involves reciting a list of adjectives in the dictionary, in alphabetical order. Fortunately the list is of the more colorful adjectives, but it is still merciful for the audience that the game is continually interrupted by eccentric visitors. Every visitor goes on obsessively about some topic for a while (except for The Beautiful Lady, who becomes the obsession of the onstage males), but eventually vanishes permanently offstage. One is preoccupied with ridiculous political machinations and intrigue, another with his own name, a third with the staggering number of children he has at home (or does he?), and another is looking for a fire to put out. With this parade of single-fixation characters, added to the monotonous parlor game, the play becomes a celebration of obsessive-compulsive behavior.

    Fans of those "Saturday Nite Live" skits built on the premise that anything becomes funny when repeated enough times or drawn out long enough will probably find "The Viscount" familiar, and hilarious. The visiting characters are colorful, and they appear and depart with enough speed that the play stays entertaining even for those with different senses of humor. Jan W. Hill's performance as The Fat Gentleman stands out especially, as he somehow conjures up a sloppy fat body for himself using nothing more than movements and posture.

    But the high point mentioned at the beginning of this review is something else entirely. Before the performance it was announced that due to problems with transportation, two of the actors in the play were being replaced by understudies. Evidently it only became apparent at the last minute that the two actors would not be able to make it to the performance, so both of the understudies showed up on stage holding copies of the script. Having two characters reading from the script in the middle of the play added an extra touch of absurdity that actually made the performance funnier. The best was The Fireman, who showed up looking for something to put out, only to be told by the other characters that he had come into the wrong play and be sent offstage again. How could he be in the wrong play? He was even holding the script! Besides, he had already appeared onstage as The Marquis, and seemed to be half stuck in that earlier character when he re-entered as The Fireman. These accidents were even more absurd than absurdism; if only the play as planned were as funny.

    SEPTEMBER 20, 2001

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