The Bald Soprano: Would you care for a bit of logic?

Written in 1949, Eugène Ionesco’s first play, The Bald Soprano, was created from his observation of absurdity in British dialogue while he was learning English. Running slightly over an hour without intermission, The Cutting Ball Theater’s production, directed and translated from the French original by Rob Melrose, adds a lively new dimension to this enduring farce.

The lights come up on a sublimely simple set: a black leather sofa sits center stage, on either side of which are identical black leather armchairs, all framed by a solid orange wall. An unseen, and apparently broken, clock chimes incessantly, then stops. Mr. Smith (David Sinaiko) is seated on the sofa behind a newspaper. Mrs. Smith (Paige Rogers) stands nearby, noting to her husband that it is 9 o’clock and that they have dined well. She carries on as incessantly as the clock about the meal, food in general and their neighborhood “on the outskirts of London”. Mr. Smith finally emerges from behind the newspaper to correct her observation about a Dr. McKenzie’s competence. The ensuing dialogue between them is nonsensical, contradicting itself amid digressions.

The maid (Anjali Vashi) appears and brashly describes her day before being berated for taking the afternoon off, for which she had permission. She announces the arrival of guests, Mr. (Donell Hill) and Mrs. (Caitlyn Louchard) Martin, who are ushered onstage when the Smiths leave to prepare for them. It appears that Mr. and Mrs. Martin recognize one another but can’t quite place from where until Mr. Martin arrives at the realization they are, in fact, husband and wife. The Smiths return. An awkward silence soon envelopes the room. It isn’t long before a stranger in the form of a fire captain (Derek Fischer) appears and chaos is ignited.

At this point, The Bald Soprano enters a realm of absurdity where holding on to your hat is strongly advised. It’s a wild ride in overdrive, as physical as it is illogical, with glimmers of fish frolicking in the air. Ionesco’s humor is far from subtle or staid. Before the play on words is done, the broken springs of the unseen cuckoo clock have sprung to life in its characters.

Melrose’s choice to present a French play about Englishmen in an American accent, elected in an attempt to prevent the play’s detour into British parody of another hue, loses humor that would have otherwise been apparent in the first half of the play. A mildly British accent would have enhanced the absurdity of the characters’ confined observations more keenly than the American hysteria taking its place. The only actor to successfully command a British inflection without a British accent was Hill, who instilled a sense of starkness in the process. After the fire captain appeared, however, dissonance evaporated as this or any other chosen accent was overwhelmed by utter confusion.

The Bald Soprano is a wonderful celebration of theater of the absurd and a recognition of Ionesco’s inimitable contribution. Acting is excellent throughout, as can be expected of Cutting Ball productions.

The Bald Soprano plays Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 5:00 p.m. at EXIT on Taylor, 277 Taylor Street (between Eddy and Ellis), San Francisco, through November 22. Tickets are available online at www.cuttingball.com or by telephone at 800-838-3006.