Exit the King @ the Barrymore
Last night I saw Geoffrey Rush and Susan Sarandon in a play on what they call "Broadway," and I'm not too cool or ironic to admit that I still find something magical in that. I mean, it's Annie freakin' Savoy standing up there, man, 30 feet away from me. I just don't know how not to be excited about that.
However. In order to say anything intelligent about "theatre of the absurd," I would have to see more of it, read more of it, and study a lot of it. Which isn't impossible but probably not likely because I have so much napping to do. As it is, I take what's coming at me and try not to get bogged down by what I don't understand (which seems like it might be the idea anyway). As long as I'm following the general direction of things—sitting on the right side of the point, as it were—and can hear the language, I don't care if I miss some of the nuances. And this—the tragically useless escape follies of a 400-year-old dying man who refuses to die—wasn't so hard to get anyway, and was a little like watching "King Lear" staged by Mel Brooks. Also fine by me.
Geoffrey Rush, as King Berenger (and co-translator of the original text by Eugene Ionesco), put on a simply astonishing display of physical and emotional virtuosity. His performance was akin to a one-person orchestra following fifteen separate arrangements at the same time, with each limb playing a different instrument, each breath setting a different pitch, and every sentence starting a different tune. Over the course of the first act he prances about like a clown, weaseling, waffling, and goading what remains of his family and followers as they try to convince him that hark! the end is truly, irrevocably nigh. That is, he's a spoiled brat with no intention of going anywhere, because he has no idea how. He's a king! Dying is for the common. ("Better to miss than to be missed," he says at one point, or something of the sort.) And then, just before intermission, as reality starts to hit bottom, he descends from the stage to wander up and down the aisles of the Ethel Barrymore, now pleading with the audience—as millions of dead souls—to tell him how they came to accept their passing in order to ease his own, or at the very least how to hate life in order to better leave it. Of course there are no answers, and dear, dear, dear. It's chilling and sad and utterly unforgettable.
As was, I have to say, Susan Sarandon, returning to the stage after some 30-odd years to play Queen Marguerite, no-nonsense first wife to the king and ultimately his guide into death. Whatever nerves she might have displayed at the beginning of the run were invisible to me, as she was by all rights an equally demanding force, by necessity both bullying and brusque and then finally, at the end, a steadying source of calm, comfort, and tenderness. And ohmigoodness, so very much not to be missed.