New York: Exit the King

Exit the King by Eugene Ionesco, new translation by Neil Armfield and Geoffrey Rush, at the Barrymore Theater

This is quite possibly the only time in your life that you will ever want to have sex with Geoffrey Rush. He didn’t get all Wolverine-buff or have work done or anything. He’s still scattered looking and a little creepy intense. But praise Jesus is competence sexy. And this is beyond competence. This is take-me-now excellence.

You have to go. You must. I don’t care what excuse you have to give your Aunt Delia who’s in town for a weekend show, but scalp your Wicked tickets and go see some absurdist theater instead. She might even accept “celebrities” as a category trade-in for “endless mic’d singing about my feelings.”

The celebrities in question are Rush as the King, Lauren Ambrose (Six Feet Under) turning in a very good histrionic performance as the King’s younger wife, Susan Sarandon anteing up a with an unconvincing offering as the original wife, and William Sadler whose resume you won’t remember but whose face you will (Die Hard II, suit-wearing villains on small and large screens) as the doctor.

I was disappointed with Sarandon. I’ve generally thought that she was better than her on-screen material, that she had an authority that would play well on-stage. Her work here doesn’t support either of those assumptions. She is definitely the weak link and Rush would have done better to cast someone with a stronger, weirder hand to match the rest of the performances.

The play is not easy. It’s absurd and bleak and funny (think Godot but with more running around) and about death, which is not a straightforward sell. Ionesco said, “I told myself that one could learn to die, that I could learn to die, that one can also help other people to die. This seems to me the most important thing we can do, since we’re all of us dying men who refuse to die. The play is an attempt at an apprenticeship in dying.”

Entertaining stuff, right? In point of fact, yes. Really. Rush is very, very funny and very, very good at it. He’s had the original production in Sydney and a run in London to perfect his performance and it’s a tour de force. Suffice to say that there’s a lot of dancing about interspersed with the pathos. See video clips here.

Rush and the director, Neil Armfield, did a new translation for this revival and it’s impossible not to see the relevance of the play today after eight years of criminally bad leadership (in this country anyway) and the popular obsession with self-expression (blog, anyone?) and with leaving your mark on the world. Sarandon’s uncertainty with the material undermines the crucial final path to the King’s demise and the text itself becomes more if-y and out of reach, but I’m not sure I could do better and I can’t imagine a better production, so plan for an evening of drinking afterwards and go see this one.

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Categories: NYC (there), Watch This

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