Theater of the absurd ditches the rule book

By Park Min-young
  • Published : Feb 23, 2011 - 09:41
  • Updated : Feb 23, 2011 - 09:41

Audience members eat snacks, drink beer and answer phone calls in wacky new productions

There was still at least 15 minutes to go before the start of the play but two clowns in black raincoats and hats were already wandering around the stage and near audience seats, miming in slow-motion.

People hurried in, bewilderedly whispering to each other, “Has it already started?”

Well, it might have ― or might not.

The play, “La Cantatrice Chauve,” which means “The Bald Soprano,” was blurring its beginning and end, one of its many efforts to show how unreasonable life ― and the theater ― can be.

The clowns suddenly sprang into life at the scheduled starting time. The male clown started to rap while the girl started a silly dance, to roars of laughter. They strongly hinted that the play would be totally different from ordinary plays.

“If your phone rings, just answer it! Don’t even bother to switch it to vibration mode. Brought your camera? Snap away, take loads of pictures. Got drinks? Just drink it! Got a snack? Just eat it! Raise your hand if you did not bring anything. My pretty friend here will hand out some chocolates to munch on!” he rapped.

No need to switch off phones or throw away drinks before you enter. The theater of the absurd which is currently running at SM Art Hall in Daehangno, central Seoul, was determined to break the rules ― and break them it did.

There were constant sounds of munching, sipping and cameras clicking. Actors and actresses did not seem the least bit perturbed ― in fact, they made “V” signs for the cameras from time to time, all the while smoothly acting on stage.

Viewers were a bit hesitant about taking phone calls, until one of the actor’s cell phones rang while he was speaking his lines.

“Hello? Oh, hey, sorry, I’m in the middle of my act right now. Can I call you later? No, really. My three o’clock show. I’ll call you later,” he said, in his natural voice, not his character’s.

When cells started ringing here and there, the audience, encouraged by the actor, excitedly took phone calls. Some told their companions that they just switched their cells from “vibration” to “loud,” hoping to enjoy the absurd show to the fullest.

It is actually Daehangno’s second play to free the audience from conventional manners. The drama “True West” which is currently running at Culture Space NU, also in Daehangno, took the first step in allowing its audience to bring in one can of beer each. 
Jo Jeong-seok, one of the main actors of the play “True West,” is slouched on a sofa with a bottle of liquor in hand during a scene. (Aga Company)

Not a surprising decision, seeing as the actors constantly popped open beer cans and gulped them down or sprayed them at each other during the acts.

OK, so the actors and actresses are professionals. But is it not difficult for the audience to concentrate on the story with all this going on?

In the case of “La Cantatrice Chauve,” no need to worry because the play does not have much of a story that would require concentration. It is basically about two couples and one firefighter who accidentally meet and talk for two hours. 
Actors and actresses throw rubber balls at the audience near the end of the play “La Cantatrice Chauve.” (Aga Company)

Originally written by Romanian playwright Eugene Ionesco in 1950, the play is filled with non sequiturs that satirize modern society and express the futility of meaningful communication and relationships. It is one of the most performed plays in Europe, although it was once banned in Nicolae Ceauescu-ruled Romania, labeled as being antiestablishment.

The Korean version of the play is directed by Ahn Seok-hwan, a well-known South Korean TV actor, and the costumes are designed by Lie Sang-bong, an established fashion designer.

Though the dialogue in both plays is total gibberish, they are hilarious enough to make your cheeks sore from laughing. By the time the audience and the acting crew throw colorful rubber balls at each other at the end of the play, the theater is full of child-like laughter.

If you go to watch the play, just keep in mind what Ahn warns in the pamphlet, “Do not try to understand. There is no particular meaning to the story. Just watch and enjoy.”

“True West” was originally scheduled to run through Feb. 27 but will restart on March 11 and run through May at Culture Space NU. Tickets are range from 40,000 won to 55,000 won.

“La Cantatrice Chauve” runs through March 31 at SM Art Hall in Daehangno, central Seoul. Tickets are 40,000 won. For more information on both plays, call (02) 764-8760 or visit www.stage2010.com.

By Park Min-young  (claire@heraldcorp.com)