In a move both bold and nostalgic, Curio Theatre brings Eugene Ionesco's absurdist living-room comedy, The Bald Soprano, back to Philadelphia.
Why bold? Because before Brat Productions' former artistic director Madi Distefano left our city for warmer climes, she turned the show into something of an institution, staging several 24-hour-long productions over the last decade, during which the show was repeated in a continuous live-action loop. Curio's audience is potentially more familiar with this script than any other.
Why nostalgic? Well, that, and the nods that set designer Paul Kuhn makes to Brat's skewed angles and monochromatic gray-black-and-white color scheme.
The good thing is, as long as people attempt and fail to communicate, or people attempt to place an overlay of order on an orderless world, it's always the right time for this play. Ionesco, while learning English, encountered a lesson book depicting a married couple in their own home reciting the mundane details of their lives to one another: their children's names, their address. The Bald Soprano, with its bland conversation, non sequiturs, and burbling angst, was the amused/horrified result, and it ushered in the 1950s in all its postwar, middle-class-striving mundanity.
Charlotte Northeast directs, using an adaptation by Tina Howe, and as these performers get only one shot at it per day, its pace slows, stretching moments for comic impact. Rachel Gluck and CJ Keller, and Maria Konstantinidis and Ken Opdenaker play the Smiths and the Martins, the former tight with mutual passive-aggression, the latter wide-eyed and obliging. Brandon Pierce's Fire Captain and Aetna Gallagher's maid Mary serve to loosen the couples' stiff upper lips, bursting in and openly exhibiting passions that override their meaningless dialogue. Their appearances provide jolts of energy to the production, but while Gallagher's recitation of a pyromaniac ode meanders rather than builds to a fierce bonfire, Pierce, with a crazed grin, by turns as petulant and enthusiastic as a man-size toddler, gets his character's volatility just right.
Kuhn's set features three flat-screen televisions: one that displays a fireplace with burning logs, and two on the walls, hung like artwork, occasionally punctuating the action like pop-up video commentary. When the couples' location is mentioned, a map of London appears; when Mrs. Smith describes Mary's meal, the screen display says "Review us on Yelp." The intention here is to update Ionesco for a frenzied, plugged-in era, but it's under- or maybe just misused and unnecessary. Whatever you make of The Bald Soprano, after nearly 70 years, she still speaks to us the same way.
Presented by Curio Theatre Company at Calvary Center for Culture and Community, 4740 Baltimore Ave., through Dec. 19.