BWW Reviews: UBU ROI - Absurdist and Surrealist Theatre at its Finest

Continuing its mission to boldly re-envision classical drama, Classical Theatre Company is presenting Alfred Jarry's UBU ROI. The 1896 play is a precursor of the Theatre of the Absurd and Surrealism, but certainly opened the doors for the development of those genres of theatre.

The play tells the tale of the disgusting and childlike Father Ubu. Like William Shakespeare's Macbeth, Mother Ubu persuades Father Ubu to murder King Wenceslas and usurp his throne. With the help of Captain Bordure, the Ubus succeed in their plot. The king's son, Buggerlass, and wife, Queen Rosamund, escape and flee to a nearby cave. In the cave, the queen suddenly dies. The ghosts of Buggerlass' family, including the king and queen, visit him and urge him to avenge his father's murder, much like the ghost in HAMLET. The ghosts arm Buggerlass with a sword and send him to complete his mission.

Translated, adapted, and directed by Philip Hays, the show is weirdly grotesque and miraculously captivating. In his Director's note, Philip Hays explains that he started with a word for word translation, but the version we see has been "cut, rearranged, rewritten, and amended with scenes and songs cribbed from Jarry's other Ubu plays, as well as passages of [his] own imagination." Unfamiliar with the original texts, I cannot speak to these changes; however, I can say whatever Philip Hays has chosen to cut, rearrange, and amend works fantastically for creating a show that is discomforting and hilarious all at the same time. His UBU ROI is wildly absurd and surreal in the greatest ways possible. The characters are written and directed to be truly unforgettable and entirely unique. The plot, seemingly a pastiche of lovingly ripped off elements of other classic plays, is in its own way original and has fascinating things to say about our ability to dehumanize our peers when we want something that they possess.

Mark Roberts' Father Ubu is exhilaratingly abhorrent. The man neither understands nor knows anything of the human condition. He is completely wrapped up in himself, seemingly only interested in whatever will please him. Mark Roberts brings frightening life into the man who feels like he knows everything, but is completely out of sync with reality.

As Mother Ubu, Susan Koozin meticulously entices and repulses with magnificent ease. Strutting around the stage with confidence in her appearance and intellect, Susan Koozin's Mother Ubu is superbly manipulative.

Buggerlass, played by Dain Geist, is an entirely grounded character. While pretty much every other member of the cast induces hearty guffaws from the audience because of how they are overacted, zany caricatures of the flaws of humanity, Dain Geist's Buggerlass is the person the audience roots for to become king. In Buggerlass, we see someone who will be able to do the job well and rule with a sound mind.

Carl Masterson's King Wenceslas is played much like Dain Geist's Buggerlass, allowing the audience to understand that there was no utilitarian purpose in killing the king. The Ubu's murder plot was simply to elevate their wealth and status. Carl Masterson's King Wenceslas appears to have been a fair and just ruler, making his untimely murder a tragic waste.

JoVan Jackson interestingly plays Captain Bordure. He appears loyal to a flaw in regards to Father Ubu; however, after Father Ubu gains power, the character is imprisoned. Ultimately, JoVan Jackson's Captain Bordure is betrayed and convincingly sees Father Ubu for the folly of a man he is.

Lorenz Lopez's portrayal of Alfred Jarry throughout the show is a fascinating addition to the production. His opening diatribe is unexpected and made unusual by his pushing a replica of Alfred Jarry's Ubu woodcut figurine around the desk he sits at. He sets up the show and then serves somewhat as a narrator-like device, popping in and out of the actual action of the piece as different characters. Lorenz Lopez's characterization is unnerving and fascinating all at the same time, creating a tangibly awkward vibe for the production that the rest of the cast comfortably inhabits and expands throughout the show.

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David Clarke David Clarke has had a lifelong love and passion for the performing arts, and has been writing about theatre both locally and nationally for years. He joined running their Houston site in early 2012 and began writing as the site's official theatre recording critic in June of 2013.

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