Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Exit The King

"Exit The King" at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, March 8, 2009

(photo: Jason Bell)

Think "Lear" by Albee, this 1960s absurdist work of Romanian playwright Eugene Ionesco brings another set of stars back to Broadway with Geoffrey Rush as King Berenger and Susan Sarandon as Queen Marguerite. Lauren Ambrose and Andrea Martin round out the leads as Queen Marie and Juliette the maid, respectively.

Absurd is certainly the word for this tale of a king whose time to die finally arrives after he's allowed his country to shrink into ruin. Mr. Rush and director Neil Armfield have adapted their new translation with several bits of unnecessary profanity, a significant amount of both broad humor and some lovely pathos.

The incipient death of the king has his new wife Marie in pieces, while the old wife Marguerite forces all to face a reality that has been avoided for all of his reign.

Mr. Rush delivers a smashing performance as a clown made king (all the way down to his pajamas and exaggerated makeup), from pratfalls to the terror of realizing his impending death. Ms. Sarandon cuts quite the fine figure taking the role of responsibility to end the King's reign in hopes that the country can revive again. She has a heart-breaking speech that leads the King in his path to death, rather a reverse-Eurydice progression as she convinces him to let go of the invisible burden he carries. Ms. Ambrose commits fully to this role (as she does to every role I've seen her perform), giving everything she can to fill out her two-dimensional part, devoted to her husband and in full-voice denial of his demise.

Dale Ferguson's rotting set and cartoonish costumes are spot-on.

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