They don’t call it Theatre of the Absurd for nothing.
But if directed and performed as brilliantly as is Cutting Ball Theater’s current production of “The Bald Soprano,” the genre can be absolutely hilarious.
Ten years ago, Cutting Ball last staged the production, directed and translated from Romanian-born playwright Eugène Ionesco’s 1950 French original, by recently departed artistic director Rob Melrose. It’s well worth reprising.
In this, Ionesco’s first play, the Smiths (Cutting Ball veterans Paige Rogers and David Sinaiko), an English couple, are chatting about nothing much, occasionally interrupted by an endlessly chiming clock, when they receive an unexpected visit from the Martins (Donell Hill and Lauren Hayes), whose arrival is announced by their decidedly peculiar maid, Mary (Radhika Rao).
When the Smiths excuse themselves to change into something more appropriate for company (and of course reappear in the exact same clothes), the Martins, alone in the room, gradually deduce, to their mutual amazement, that they’re actually married — to each other.
A fire captain (Douglas Nolan) arrives to enquire hopefully whether the Smiths have perhaps a tiny fire that needs extinguishing.
Part of what makes Melrose’s staging so perfect is the attention to detail, starting with the simplest possible set, which is all that’s needed: a trio of orange wall panels, a black leather couch and two leather chairs.
In addition, the actors’ every expression, gesture and movement are precisely coordinated in this very physical show, from Rogers’ mincing trot and tiny, strained smile to Nolan’s juggling and magic tricks (an inspired add-on to the antics) to the chaotic penultimate scene in which the characters resemble wind-up toys run amok, standing upside down, somersaulting, spinning like tops, screaming banal aphorisms, batting each other with sofa cushions.
What does it all mean?
There are hints of certain abhorrent social attitudes — racism, sexism, classism — but ultimately the characters are every bit as baffling in what they say and do as humans can sometimes be.
Sinaiko’s Mr. Smith is indulges in manly rages; Rogers’ Mrs. Smith, a compulsive chatterbox, struggles to keep a formal demeanor and Rao’s Mary appalls everyone with her uncouth behavior.
The Fire Captain is so earnest that on the night I saw it, Rogers, sitting on his lap, looked into his yearning face and briefly cracked up — and somehow, within the context of the actors’ utter commitment to the insanity, it was a wonderful moment.
The Bald Soprano
Where: Cutting Ball Theater, 277 Taylor St., S.F.
When: 7 p.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays; closes June 16
Contact: (415) 525-1205, cuttingball.com