Before I launch into how bad "Ioenscopade" is -- and truly the depths of that will be examined for years -- please consider the following facts:
1) I am holding back since it is a small off-Broadway production of a decidedly unusual piece.
2) I have a finely honed sense of the absurd, both as a fan of Ionesco, and as the mother of teenagers; one of whom has taken to self-orthondontistry and the other who is an actor.
3) I was rooting for this.
That said and cutting every conceivable amount of slack, the most charitable thing I can say is that the costume designer, Nicole Wee, has a great eye and a fine sense of color and millinery.
When Geoffrey Rush brought "Exit the King" to Broadway in 2009, we saw how truly funny the truly absurd can be. But even I, who relishes the absurd -- I watch not only all of the debates but even C-Span, and was reared in a home that revered vaudeville -- can make no excuses for this.
The notion of taking from Ionesco's different works and making them separate vaudeville skits is a great idea. You would think if any playwright could have works translated into vaudeville it would have to be Ionesco. It's just that when it doesn't work -- and the umbrella with body parts from dolls and the songs about sexual tension more than don't work -- it bombs.
Running at the York Theatre Company at Saint Peter's until Feb. 26, this pulls from his various works and presents, in its entirety, "The Leader" a one-act play about people waiting to see their new leader. Those waiting get very amped up. When the leader arrives, in military uniform, he has no head.
Other moments, such as the song, "Madeleine" is taken from Ionesco's journals. Paul Binotto, who was in the original cast of "Dreamgirls" and a member of Garrison Keillor's "American Radio Company on the Air" on NPR, stands out, particularly when he sings "Madeline."
This tries hard, but the best line of the night came when the man behind me said, "Shoot me now" and two rows of people desperately tried to not laugh out loud, which should not be a problem at a broad comedy.
One particularly long number, "The Bobby Watson Family" has the cast wearing black wigs and variations of lack and white. This number is from characters referred to but never seen in "The Bald Soprano." It is quite possible that Ionesco was onto something by not showing them.
Despite how earnest the actors are, this is leaden, though some actors do a good job. Samuel Cohen is engaging as the Little Man, who does magic, and keeps the show moving. If only the movement yielded something more.
Photo/Video credit: Carol Rosegg