The Michigan Daily
Saturday, January 29, 1983-
Absurdity abounds in 'Soprano'
By David Kopel
T HE LIGHTS go down. Some mem-
bers of the audience applaud hear-
tily. And then the play begins. Thus, the
beginning and end of the play are
linked. And perhaps the audience con-
siders the circularity of their own lives,
and wonders if, despite all the motion,
anyone is really getting anywhere.
The Ann Arbor Civic Theater's
production of Eugene Ionesco's The
Lesson and The Bald Soprano percep-
tively capture the spirit and the zest of
Ionesco's absurdity. Performances
continue this Saturday night at 8 p.m.,
and February 3-5. The theater is
located at 338S. Main St.
The Lesson appears first in the
evening. The plot revolves around a
nervous, shy professor tutoring his
beautiful young pupil in arithemtic and
philology (comparative linguistics).
As the Professor, Larry Rusinsky
-steals the show. At first intimidated by
his pupil's beauty, he becomes in-
creasingly dominent as the lesson
progresses and becomes more difficult.
Conversely, the pupil loses her initial
confidence. Dire consequences result.
Gaining authority, Rusinsky capers
about the stage. Leaping from behind a
couch, crawling on the floor like a wind-
up toy, dashing into the audience,
Rusinsky captivates the audience's at-
tention. His antic, darting eyes, and
maniacal tongue give him an
At the hands of a lesser actor,
lonesco's script could be plodding. But
Rusinsky's animation fits perfectly
with the ridiculous lecture. As the
Professor explains,, words have the
same pronounciation, spelling,
meaning, and inflection in all
languages. But only after years and
years of study can one understand
exactly what the differences are among
the languages. According to the
Professor, the Italian phrase, "The
name of my country is Italy," is tran-
slated in French into, "The name of my
country is France." In Spanish, one
would say, "The name of my country is
Spain," or, in neo-Spanish, "The name
of my country is neo-Spain."
Not surprisingly, the Pupil is baffled.
Although she is a strong memorizer
(she learned all of the multiplication by
memory, including 3,755,998,251 times
19,390,002,844,219,164,508) she cannot
grasp the subtleties of philology. Unfor-
tunately, as the Pupil becomes disen-
chanted by the lesson, and afraid of the
Professor, Christy Rishoi's performan-
ce becomes less convincing. For exam-
ple, she develops a toothache, and com-
plains over and over "I got toothache,"
but her insistence about the toothache
carries little credibility, even, it seems,
to Rishoi. The final confrontation bet-
ween Professor and Pupil, however,
brings out the best in both Rusinsky and
Following The Lesson is The Bald
Soprano. Compared to The Bald
Soprano, <The Lesson seems like Neil
The characters of The Bald Soprano
are two boring British middle-class
couples (the Smiths and the Martins),
their friend the Fire Chief, and the
lonesco disliked the mediating role
actors play between the author and his
audience. In The Bald Soprano , he
deliberately created hollow characters,
ones without motivation or purpose.
These characters wander from one side
of the stage to another without reason,
talk in cliches and non-sequiters, and
say phrases like "Good Lord, how
curious and how bizarre, and what a
coincidence," with utter boredom.
Nothing happens in this play; there is
no plot to be advanced. Only vacuous
characters, moving through their
repetitive, redundant, empty lives.
All th is could induce narcolepsy, but
it doesn't. The cast finds the abundant
sources of humor in Ionesco's script,
and then produces some more humor of
its own. Even during the scenes when
the dialogue illustrates the tediousness
of everyday life, the cast keeps the play
entertaining. When the Smiths and the
Martins first meet, they are too shy to
initiate conversation, so they shift ner-
vously in their chairs for five minutes.
Shifting to creative positions, the cast
had the audience in stitches for the
One of director Steven Stuhlberg's
finest innovations is making the clock
into a character. Behind a large clock
face in the Smith's living rrom sits
Robin Stanko, ringing bells to indicate
the time, or discontinuity thereof.
Providing mime commentary to the ac-
tion on stage, she accentuates the ab-
surdity, and keeps the audience
amused. The rest of the cast turns in
strong performances, and works well
Eugene Ionesco isn't a good
playwright to see if you want realism
and structure. But as Professor obser-
ves, "Integration alone is not enough;
disintegration is too. That's science." If
you can tolerate weirdness, don't mind
absurdist philosophy, and would like
large doses of hilarity, you can't go
wrong with a three-dollar ticket for an
evening at the Civic Theater.
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The Bald Soprano asks the musical question: "Have you ever had your palm
red?" Fortunes told at the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre.
By Knute Rife
The Haunted Dollhouse
Terry Berger, David Berger, and
Ka ren Coshof
A HAUNTED DOLLHOUSE?
Perhaps. But hauntings require
ghosts. Are there ghosts in the
dollhouse? Or is something even
stranger happening in there?
In The Haunted Dollhouse writers
Terry and David Berger and
photographer Karen Coshof have
created a dream. A compelling and
dangerous dream. As David Berger, a
resident of Ann Arbor, remarked,
"Sometimes a fantasy becomes so real
you can't walk out of it."
The dream is Sarah's, who receives a
decidedly mixed blessing on her thir-
teenth birthday. Ignoring a warning not
to open her gift, Sarah discovers the
Victorian dollhouse she has dreamed.
of. When she awakens in the morning,
she discovers she is inside it. She wan-
ders distractedly and dreamily through
this strange yet familiar world. She is
in the world she has always wanted, a
time long ago when life seemed sim-
pler. There are signs around her that
things are not as they ought to be, but
she pays no heed. She is caught inside
The book has many nice touches. A
feeling of uneasiness weaves through
the tone of the writing. The photographs
carry much of the burden of the book,
using such devices as shifting from
black and white to sepia when Sarah en-
ters the dollhouse. Once inside, Sarah is
always dressed either in black or white,
and her eyes are charcoaled. Eerie
omens abound. Sarah's dream is alive.
But the book is mistargeted. It is
aimed at older children and younger
teenagers, but the test is too simple and
the photos too complex for that group.
An adult market would be more ap-
propriate, as adults would be more
likely to use the text to interpret the
photos, a method which works far bet-
ter than the other way around.
There are cryptic comments that
adults might ponder but that children
would be confused by: a statue of The
Virgin representing one of the servants,
a hand in a rat trap, a pet armadillo.
And there are loose ends to tie up.
Exactly what happened to the servan-
ts? To Sarah? What is happening in the
dollhouse? Enigmas. The book is an
enigma. If you like books that ask more
questions than they answer, The Haun-
ted Dollhouse awaits you.
THE FUN PLACE TO BE!
5-6 p.m.-$2 pitchers of Old Milwaukee
Michigan Ensemble Theatre
January 19-23 8 p.m.
February 2-5 8 p.m
February 6 2 p.m:
New Trueblood Arena
Adapted for the stage
and Directed by
An American Premiere
PTP ticket office
By Joshua Bilmes
T HE THINGS served in The Atomic
Cafe is very much like those served
in some of the area's other
cafes-dining emporiums like East
Quad, Bursley, and Alice Lloyd. They
all might look and smell nice, but they
taste very bad. It seems to have taken
a lot of stupidity to have tried some of
the stuff in the first place when looked
back on a little later. The main dif-
ference between The Atomic Cafe and
the eatery in Bursley is that the atomic
items were designed with the purpose
of tasting bad and seeming stupid in
retrospect. The Atomic Cafe continues
this evening at the MLB.
The items served in The Atomic Cafe
are some choice clips from the gover-
nment's voluminous library, and all the
clips deal with nuclear war and
weaponry, cold-war style. Before
people knew exactly what all this stuff
tasted like, these clippings must have
seemed quite delicious indeed. There
are generous servings of what to do
when disaster strikes, there are tidy
helpings of why all the weapons exist,
there is a hefty portion of how nice
these things are and how happy
everybody should be or is to have them.
And the movie does an excellent job of
making it all taste bad now that we
have bit in and had a few years to think
There is a very nicely sized amount of
this bad tasting food that is going to be
very difficult to shake off. The film's
centerpiece is a clip on how to save yur-
self, the basic theory being to "duck
and cover." Johnny is riding his
bicycle when he sees the white flash of a
nuclear explosion. He gets off the bike,
lies down close to the curb, and covers
his head. Instant protection. The family
is eating dinner. Explosion. Everyone
goes under the table.
Another clip that should stay around
for a long time is a film on one of the
tests in the Pacific. The narrator tells
the audience how happy the smiling
natives are to be leaving their island so
it can get blasted to smithereens. GI's
were not exempt. In tests of mop-up
operations, the commanding officers
told the soldiers how safe it would be to
charge toward ground zero shortly af-
ter the explosion. Of course, the
radiation badges would tell them in-
stantly if things started to get
All of this tastes so bad now, it is fun-
ny, hilariously so in places. Beneath
the laughter, though, lies a much more
somber message: people actually
believed this. Clips such as these
guided an entire generation's percep-
tions of nuclear war. While these films
taste bad now, might there be
something else that we see now as
looking good and smelling good. And
might that something be seen as very
bad in the future?
The film does a brilliant job of posing
these questions in an amusing, effective
way that will not be forgotten quickly.
The film's directors, Kevin Peirced
Rafferty and Jayne Loader, are to be
commended. The film's only fault
might be that it provides a little too
much. After a while, it is possible to get
bored by the endless parade of gover-
nment quaddieburgers. But this film
should be mandatory viewing, even if it
does get a bit dull toward the end. The
Atomic Cafe is bad food that must be
DIARY of a MADMAN
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