If Frenzy for Two was a circus (see separate review), it was a one-ring circus. The Subjective Theatre Company production of the obscure Victims of Duty in the 2001 Ionesco Festival was a three-ring circus.
It started with a couple of carney barkers in the lobby - a bizarrely dressed couple in black-and-white, she with an inane laugh, urging people to line up for the show. Only people nine feet tall or more could get in; somehow everyone made it.
The first scene, reminiscent of The Bald Soprano, has M. and Mme. Chaubert in a domestic scene discussing - what else? - the theory of drama. After M. Chaubert (played very stagily by Andy Waldschmitt) announces that "all plays are thrillers," a Detective (Brian Carr) enters, on a search for information about the previous tenant, one Mallot (though the Detective's not sure of the spelling). The concierge being absent (engaged above the stage locking fake Mallots up in an improvised jail), the Detective must interrogate Chaubert, while his wife, Madeleine (Janet Dunson), looks on and engages in spirited monologs on various subjects. (Later in the play, she and the Detective sit in the audience and comment noisily on Chaubert's over-the-top tragic soliloquy. "I thought we were going to The Full Monty!") The set was a schematic living room, with a jail above stage left and a sort of cocoon for the real Mallot above stage right.
This gives a flavoring of the evening's activities. In addition, the real Mallot (Blueman), an almost-nude, blue-painted young man, wandered around when not in his cocoon. The fake Mallots, dressed like the original couple of barkers, spent most of their time in jail. Nicolas D'Eu (Chad Corbitt), on plasterer's stilts and wearing a fake beard, gave a long and confused monolog and swung on a swing. The Detective, after force-feeding Chaubert (who begins to resemble Oedipus), leads him on a journey through his unconscious to an exploration of his identity. (The sequence used alternating colored spotlights fading in and out.) The evening ended without a curtain call as the stage manager, in colorful paisley, swept accumulated detritus off the stage. Audience members could leave only after announcing that they were "victims of duty."
If the above sounds confused, it just goes to prove that theatre is written on water. The more-traditional theatrical values included carefully modulated performances - even if they involved "absurd" elements. The mise-en-scene was notable in that the director made extensive, contrapuntal use of the upper level of the theatre in a manner not usually seen at the Theatorium. Anyone who has spent any time as a victim of duty Off-Off-Broadway will recognize the dangers of brain-dead loopiness, but will have to take it on faith that this evening, unlike so many others, was disciplined, calculated, and - above all - fun. (See also Man with Bags and A Hell of a Mess.)
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Copyright 2001 John Chatterton