BWW Review: Pointless Theatre's KING UBU A Riotous Middle Finger for the Holidays
'Tis the season to be - oh, screw it.
(I'd be more blunt, but you can't be too careful these days).
If you've had enough of the holiday cheer and are in desperate need of a chaotic romp, you could do a whole lot worse than Pointless Theatre's whimsical production of Alfred Jarry's anarchic satire, King Ubu. Decked out in costumer Ivania Stack's fuzzy, teddy-bear pajamas, the cast crackles with the energy of the cocky, petulant high-schooler that Jarry once was. The result is a 2-hour tour of Shakespeare as interpreted by a drug-addled adolescent.
The fact that this attitude melded nicely with the Avant-Garde movements of the early 20th century is, well, hardly coincidental. Jarry's bathroom humor and irreverence were notorious, and he was credited as the inspiration for a whole phalanx of movements from Dada to Surrealism in the decades that followed Ubu's premiere in the 1890's. His passion for absinthe, his idiosyncratic mode of speech (he favored a robotic monotone) and his bizarre vocabulary (his bicycle was "that which rolls") are legendary and celebrated in classic studies like Roger Shattuck's The Banquet Years.
Director Frank Labovitz, who also crafted the simple and functional set here, has assembled a cast that is more than up to the task, and he manages the mayhem-beheaded puppets and all-with inspired glee. Led by Colin Connor and Haely Jardas as Pa and Ma Ubu, the acting is generally spot-on, and the dexterity with which the actors incorporate puppets, props, etc., is great fun to watch.
Set in Poland (which in Jarry's day did not exist) the action of King Ubu revolves around the lust for power of a certain Pa Ubu, inspired (Macbeth-style) by his wife, Ma. They proceed to plot against King Wenceslas, but fail to do away with his son, Prince Bourgelas. There is the ensuing corruption and mass-murder, declarations of revolt, etc., and blah-blah, but they are all just pretexts for playing around with puppets and turning actors into puppet-like stage objects. Although intended as satire, Madeline Key's turn as Bourgelas offers the audience a respite from the mayhem, as she delivers a touching monologue before the plot veers back to the toilet-the literal toilet, on high, from which Pa Ubu reigns.
Michael Winch provides a charming accordion accompaniment to the action, creating just the sort of Euro-trash ambiance that King Ubu demands. Patti Kalil and Rachel Menyyuk's puppets are ubiquitous, none of which (it seems) escape with their dignity let alone their heads intact. The on-stage cleanup of battle scenes is one of the many priceless routines in this show.
Pointless Theatre has carved out a niche as the spirited embodiment of the European aesthetic movements that puzzled and offended traditional theatre-goers for years. Now that audience tastes have expanded considerably (and, in this case, run headlong to the gutter), it's safe to say that they have earned a solid following in this stuffed-shirt town. All power to them.
Photo credit: A dinner guest turns up a turd at Pa Ubu's feast. Cast pictured includes (left to right) Nick Martin, Lee Gerstenhaber, Colin Connor, Haely Jardas, Mary Myers, Scott Whalen. Photo by D. J. Corey.
Audience Advisory: Toilets and sundry toilet cleaning implements feature prominently. Children with a keen sense for potty humor are more than welcome.
King Ubu runs December 8, 2016 - January 7, 2017 at the Mead Theater Lab at Flashpoint, 916 G Street NW, Washington DC. Showtimes are Fridays & Saturdays at 8 PM, and Sundays at 6 PM. For tickets go to: https://www.artful.ly/pointless-theatre-company/store/events/10190 .