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A CurtainUp Review

Fairy Tales of the Absurd
By Jenny Sandman

Who would have thought that French absurdism would provide such a fertile ground for children's theatre?

Untitled Theatre Company has done just that, by taking some short pieces by Ionesco and a new one-act by contemporary playwright Edward Einhorn and weaving them into a whimsical show. While best known for such absurdist classics as The Chairs and The Bald Soprano, Ionesco also wrote lighter and funnier plays and stories.

The first piece of Fairy Tales is an homage to a friend of his, a chef,. It's entitled To Prepare a Hard-Boiled Egg. And that's exactly what it's about. Peter B. Brown, in chef's hat, with egg, instructs the audience on how to boil it -- beginning with instructions to the store and ending with a list of ways to slice the egg. It is all perfectly deadpan and at times hilarious. Brown tongue firmly in cheek, knows what Jim Carrey should know by now -- that sometimes humor is best delivered with a straight face.

The second piece, Tales for Children, consists of four stories Ionesco told to his own young daughter. They all involve a little French girl, Josette, and her mother and father (and housekeeper). Josette is charmingly played by a puppet, designed by Berit Johnson and operated by Uma Incrocci. The stories are standard children's book stuff. Josette goes to the market; Josette's father tells her a story about flying to the moon. But every once in a while, there is a truly Ionesco-ish flash. In the first story, the father tells Josette a story in which everyone is named Jacqueline -- just as in The Bald Soprano nearly everyone is named Bobby Watson. In yet another tale, Josette's father attempts to convince her that a chair is called a window and other such linguistic misnomers.

The last tale is an original play by Edward Einhorn called One Head Too Many. It's set in a fantastical faraway planet, with bright costumes, blue hands and bald heads. King and Queen Jo's oldest daughter suddenly grows a second head thanks to an old curse by a witch. The old queen can offer no advice, busy as she is painting portraits of noodles, and so King and Queen Jo consult his father, now a pudding. Like all fairy tales, even those involving talking puddings, this one has a happy ending.

The small cast of actors is excellent. Uma Incrocci is a gifted puppeteer. Peter B. Brown and Celia Montgomery are so versatile that they nearly steal the show. It's quite an assembly of talent, including the first-rate puppetry.

Fairy Tales for the Absurd lives up to its title. It's cute and playful; not really for adults and not really for children, but somewhere in between -- like Alice in Wonderland and The Little Prince. It presents some rarely seen pieces by Ionesco and some truly surprising visual moments. If anything, it's a little too charming, a little too sweet, like eating too many marshmallows. In the end, it leaves the adult members of the audience wanting something more substantial -- yet this heavy dose of sweetness makes for an enjoyable and different treat.

Written by Eugene Ionesco and Edward Einhorn
Directed by Edward Einhorn
Cast: Peter B. Brown, John Blaylock, Ian Hill, Uma Incrocci and Celia Montgomery
Set Design: Michelle Malavet
Puppets: Berit Johnson
Costume Design: Carla Gant
Lighting Design: Gregg Carville
Original Music and Sound Design: William Niederkorn
Running time: One hour, 35 minutes
Untitled Theatre Company #61 at Theatre 80, 80 St. Mark's Place, 212-868-4444
Thursday through Saturday at 8; Sunday, Monday and Wednesday at 7; Sunday at 3
Reviewed by Jenny Sandman based on June 11th performance

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