Home > Arts and Entertainment > ALIVE THEATRE’S ITINERANTS ARE SUITABLY ABSURD IN IONESCO’S “HELL OF A MESS”

ALIVE THEATRE’S ITINERANTS ARE SUITABLY ABSURD IN IONESCO’S “HELL OF A MESS”

Eugène Ionesco (1909-1994)

BY GREGGORY MOORE

Alive Theatre is an itinerant troupe, but every space they’ve inhabited during their three-year existence has worked for them—they’ve made them work. The empty whatever-it-was at 3838 Atlantic Ave. in Bixby Knolls that they’ve transformed into a theater for their current show, Eugene Ionesco’s A Hell of a Mess, or Oh, What a Bloody Circus, is merely their latest success. The set-up is ideal.

The only question, then, is whether you’ll enjoy the show, and the answer is not complicated: If you enjoy Ionesco specifically or absurdist drama generally, then…yes. Alive has all the pieces in place.

A Hell of a Mess is a story of life, in all its existentially empty vainglory. Ionesco tells that story by centering on an unnamed Character, who has inherited a substantial sum of money. He leaves his job and embarks on a vague course that carries him through the rest of his days. He eats and drinks in cafes, finds a new home, meets his neighbors, gets a girlfriend, on and on, as time and history march forward, sweeping up his passive, nebulous existence as they go.

Is it meaningful, any of it? Ionesco tells us it’s a bloody circus. The appeal of the play will somewhat depend upon how much you know what he means.

Personally, as someone seminally influenced by Samuel Beckett, Ionesco is speaking my native tongue (even if monosyllabically). Plus, I couldn’t help noticing some pre-echoes of Pink Floyd’s The Wall and Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York—two masterpieces. If you pre-echo masterpieces, you certainly don’t suck.

As always, this Alive production boasts an excellent cast. But the payoff this time ’round is higher than usual, because A Hell of a Mess is a script in which most every role has something into which an actor can sink her teeth (at least with proper dramaturgy, as here). Chris Batstone’s Russian Man, for example, exists on stage for but one part of one scene, and yet his halting manner and movements, belabored pithiness, and subtle-yet-deliberate facial gesturing make that stage time memorable.

Director Mike Dias could have gone over-the-top for the duration—it’s tempting with absurdism, because over-the-top seems to beckon—but he mixes it up. We don’t get all of the characters cut from the same cloth: thus, the wired wiles of Boss (Jasper Oliver) and Woman (Danielle Dauphinee), although effectively effused by each, stand out all the stronger within the fabric of the whole.

Dias also does an exemplary job with the blocking, often even having the actors maneuver into lighting for that just-so framing of a moment. In fact, it is perhaps the production’s physical elements—the character movements (such as those of Aaron Van Geem’s lead Character, whose performance relies little-to-not-at-all on words)—that steal the show.

“Can we go on living as it is?” Ionesco has one character ask. Another states that we’re all “waiting for a crack through which something will reveal itself.” Can we? Are we? I don’t know. But right now, in the midst of that living and waiting—whatever it’s worth—you can catch some good theatre. And that’s all right.

A HELL OF A MESS, BY EUGENE IONESCO • ALIVE THEATRE • 3838 ATLANTIC AVE. • LONG BEACH 90807 • FRI-SAT 8PM • $15-18; APRIL 24 IS PAY-WHAT-YOU-CAN NIGHT • THROUGH MAY 8 • WWW.ALIVETHEATRE.ORG

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