Dances with heads, fish, and tails

Fairytales of the Absurd

By Eugene Ionesco and Edward Einhorn
Directed by Edward Einhorn
Untitled Theatre Company #61/FringeNYC
P.S. 122 (downstairs)
150 First Avenue at 9th St. (420-8877)
Non-union production (closes August 25)
Review by Brook Wilensky-Lanford

Fairytales of the Absurd is an evening of three plays, two by Ionesco and one by Edward Einhorn. Untitled Theatre Company #61 (UT61) proved its dedication to Ionesco's work with this spring's Ionesco Festival, the first to cover all 39 of the noted Absurdist's works. These three short works, which premiered at the Ionesco Festival, certainly bear repeating for the Fringe. Newly translated by Einhorn with dramaturg Karen Ott, To Prepare a Hard Boiled Egg and Tales for Children emphasize the joyfulness in Ionesco's work, although Einhorn and Ott clearly are well-versed in the playwright's darker works.

Egg, featuring Peter B. Brown as Man With Egg, is a delightful introduction to the wonders of the surreal, where ordinary words and objects are reimagined as something entirely new. A seven-minute description of the steps necessary to boil an egg doesn't necessarily sound theatrical, but Brown's mischievous and ultra-serious delivery provided both childlike silliness and adult wit.

Tales for Children is a sequence of fantastical stories told by a Father (John Blaylock) to his Daughter, Josette (Uma Incrocci, deftly maneuvering a much shorter puppet), with Celia Montgomery as the Narrator. Ionesco borrows the classic fairy-tale format where everything important occurs in threes. But when Father offers to take Josette on an airplane ride, her adventure takes off into more interesting territory. Childlike puppets held high above the bare white flats portrayed "Good Fish," "Bad Fish," and the unfortunate "Mrs. Priest," who is abruptly removed from the scene as Father admits that no, she doesn't really exist.

In Einhorn's One Head Too Many, a similar spirit of good-hearted chaos prevails. Einhorn creates a bizarre fairy-tale kingdom where everyone has large papier-mache headwear resembling a fish's tail, and blue hands are considered highly attractive in princesses. Even though it looks different, this kingdom operates in a familiar way: King Jo (Blaylock) and Queen Jo (Montgomery) wish to marry off their eldest daughter Princess Lilla (Incrocci). But a long-ago bargain with witch Dame Digga (Montgomery in a gleefully wacky performance) intrudes on the proceedings, resulting in the extra head of the title. Before things can work out happily ever after, Einhorn has created diversions Ionesco would be proud of: a former king transformed into a delicious bowl of pudding (Ian W. Hill), and aging Queen Zilda (Incrocci), who has recently become free to pursue her dream of drawing and painting noodles.

The three different works shared a similar mise-en-scene: a world where food is plastic, and actors change character onstage. The seams were definitely visible, but the haphazard look of set, costumes, and light served as a Brechtian distancing technique, coaxing the viewer to leave behind expectations of traditional storytelling. Original sound by William Sullivan Niederkorn was especially effective in setting an otherworldly -- and goofy -- tone for One Head Too Many. This skillful production remained light-hearted and entertaining without becoming sugar-coated.

Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 1
Acting: 2
Sets: 1
Props/Puppets: 2
Costumes: 1
Lighting: 1/Sound: 2

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Copyright 2002 Brook Wilensky-Lanford