This past Friday night, students, faculty, and Chattanooga residents arrived at Sanderson 215 for the opening night of the Covenant College Theatre Department’s The Bald Soprano, written by Eugène Ionesco and directed by Prof. Camille Hallstrom.
Despite first glance at the title, none of the characters are bald. And you will be disappointed if you expect to see a soprano. In fact, the show focuses on two couples, the Smiths and the Martins, and follows their humorous banter and senseless story-telling. With a rather Lewis Carroll flair, the show mocks British propriety and culture as the characters become heated over discussions of no importance, like whether a person must ring the doorbell for the doorbell to sound. Surprisingly the title merely comes from the non sequitur: “The bald soprano always wears her hair in the same style.”
“I’d never heard of The Bald Soprano prior to Covenant’s press release but I decided to not read any additional commentary or synopsis, so as to go with an open mind,” said Covenant College ‘96 alumna, Dory George. “The use of angles and borders in the set design and costumes matched the dialogue. Everything was very ‘definite––the precision of the needlework, the opinions of the characters, the edges of the furniture––there was hardly anything in the room with a curve or any subtlety to it.”
The one-act show only required a single set: the living room of the Smith’s home, consisting of a coffee table and chairs. These props would typically have established the aura of the modest British home in the post-WWII suburbs of London, yet when accompanied by the postmodern walls and large asymmetrical clock, they presented the irony of the absurd in the ordinary. For the audience, it was occasionally confusing when the clock hands would turn both clockwise and counterclockwise, yet it all added to the absurdist style of the show.
The director’s notes provided the perfect preparation the audience needs to appreciate the show’s humor and plot, revealing that Frenchman Eugène Ionesco wrote the play while learning the English language. George also noted that, “The most useful item in the director’s notes was the reference to Ionesco’s language lessons—that what we say and hear is complete nonsense when devoid of meaning. As an ESOL teacher, I noticed the progression of the dialogue from simple sentences about food (basic) to lengthy descriptions of familial relationships (intermediate) to outbursts of famous names (advanced / cultural literacy level).”
Furthermore, each actor delicately crafted his or her character with dominant personalities. Accents were intentionally extreme as part of the humor, although some were occasionally difficult to understand or did not fit in the context of southern London. Nevertheless, the actors consistently carried their characters’ personality, gestures, postures, and quirks. The prominent use of elaborate facial expressions, play on words, and timing animated the stage, and large gestures and movements made up for isolated, less prominent scenes in the script.
“It was an engaging play. Even in the pauses or silent moments there was still something hilarious happening,” said Covenant student Avery Drury. “The energy from the performers made the show . . . I’m not gonna lie, there were a few times where I was not sure what was happening but I think the play was not supposed to be completely understood.”
It did not take long for the audience to become fully engrossed in a play that defies basic principles of structure, logical flow, and narrative progression. Underneath its nonsense, there was more nonsense. Peel back that layer and you find even more nonsense. Yet, if you peel back enough, you just might discover the wisdom and beauty beneath it all.