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A CurtainUp NJ Review
Exit the King

I'll die yes, I'll die all right. In forty, fifty, three hundrerd years. Or even later. When I want to, when I've got the time, when I make up my mind. Meanwhile let's get on with affairs of state. — King
Exit the King
A scene from Exit the King
Just living through the past few months of this national election year gives us plenty of reason to rationalize life as basically absurd. One of the most acclaimed absurdist comedies of the 20th century is being revived by the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey.

Although rarely produced,Exit the King by Eugene Ionesco was, in fact, lauded when it last appeared on Broadway in 2009 starring Australian actor Geoffrey Rush. ( Curtainup's review). Perhaps not quite in the same league with the other absurdist classic Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot , it stands up sufficiently against Ionesco's more popular satire Rhinoceros to warrant an occasional resurrection.

Exit the King is essentially a one-idea, one-act play stretched to full-length, like its dying 400 year-old title character, ordained to test the patience of the living. Encouraged by the tedium and redundancy of the play's message, I made a conscious effort to appreciate its sophomoric excesses in the light of what was deemed revolutionary in the 1960s. Today, the existentially driven drivel can only be as digestible as the actors who are assigned to it.

With that it can be said that director Bonnie J. Monte has assembled a terrific cast that makes this grimly comical play not only tolerable but on occasion even fun. Whether the fun comes directly from the text (translation by Donald Watson) or that Monte has just let her flair for the outrageous reign supreme, the play has been filled to overflowing with old school burlesque and vaudeville shtick.

Unlike Ionesco's more familiar and rather frequently produced scarily bizarre one-acts, The Chairs The Lesson , and The Bald Soprano , Exit the King's can, like Rhinoceros, be appreciated,for its incisive political objective. Whether or not King Berenger is specifically succumbing to the destiny of most spoilers of empirical nations, he also represents all of us who can't see the inevitability of death or the effects of our actions during our lifetime.

Brent Harris is brilliantly unhinged and unfettered as the pathetic wobbly knees megalomaniac 400 year-old King Berenger: a leader who has allowed his kingdom to disintegrate to the point where it has shriveled to just beyond the boundaries of his palace. After waging 180 wars among other catastrophic decisions, his subjects have been diminished to a thousand old people, and the world outside is sinking into an abyss.

You won't be able to take your eyes off Harris as he follows his tragic trajectory spastically lunging about in his royal robes and spewing forth his delusions of omnipotence. Marion Adler is grandly formidable as his first wife Queen Marguerite who proceeds against all obstacles to plan for his final exit. Jesmille Darbouze is amusing as his second wife Queen Marie who cries incessantly over the impending loss of her increasingly demented lover.

Kristie Dale Sanders gives a delightfully dead-pan performance as Juliette, the over-worked, but hilariously intrusive, palace maid who lugs along a vacuum cleaner and insists on calling the throne room the living room. Despite his body being encased in a suit of armor Jon Barker is expressive and funny as the Palace Guard. Greg Watanabe is credible enough but doesn't exactly inhabit the same off-center universe as the others and misses out getting his share of laughs as the wry, opportunistic court physician.

A spectacular throne room with its decaying arches and cracked walls (that continue to crack) has been designed by Brittany Vasta with atmospheric lighting by designer Tony Galaska. The royals gets costume designer Hugh Hanson's winking vision of haute couture. The frayed recorded fanfares played by sour brass are a hoot. All in all, " It was a lot of fuss over nothing, wasn't it, " says Queen Marguerite to the dying king. Or was it something?

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Exit the King by Eugene Ionesco Directed by Bonnie J. Monte

Cast: Marion Adler (Queen Marguerite), Jon Barker (Guard), Jesmille Darbouze (Queen Marie), Brent Harris (Berenger the First, The King), Kristie Dale Sanders (Juliette),Greg Watanabe (The Doctor)
Scenic Designer: Brittany Vasta
Lighting Designer: Tony Galaska
Costume Designer: Hugh Hanson
Sound Designer: Karin Graybash
Production Designer: Christine Whalen Running Time: 1 hour 30 minutes no intermission
Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, The F.M. Kirby Shakespeare Theatre, 36 Madison Avenue (at Lancaster Road), Madison, NJ
(973) 408 - 5600
Tickets: $25.00 - $75.00
Performances: Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:30 pm; Thursday, Friday, Saturday at 8 pm; Matinees Saturday and Sunday at 2 pm.
From 08/10/16 Opened 08/13/16 Ends 08/28/16
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 08/13/16

NJ Theaters
NJ Theatre Alliance
Discount Tix Information

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