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Exit The King
"Exit The King" by Eugene Ionesco
With Geoffrey Rush and Susan Sarandon
Directed by Neil Armsfield
Ethel Barrymore Theater, 243 West 47th Street
Reviewed May 10,2009 by Margaret Croyden
Eugene Inonesco was one of the leading Absurdist playwrights of the 1950's. His "Rhinoceros" and "The Chairs" have been played many times in Europe and in the USA.
And to great acclaim--deservedly so. But I cannot say the same for this new production of "Exit the King," now on Broadway starring the Australian screen actor Geoffrey Rush. A play about death and mankind's refusal to accept it, understand, or find peace with it is in itself a difficult subject. If this were not enough, the play goes on for over two hours ruminating on the same theme: death. After watching Jane Fonda dying in her vehicle, "33 Variations," for almost three hours, I'm afraid I have really have had it. Besides, Ionesco is no Sartre, nor is he Albert Camus, who wrote on the subject ad infinitum, and one wonders what else is there to say about Man's fate. True, Ionesco tries to make a farce out of the subject but I would say this production is more like a circus act. So much so that one cannot even get to the ideas in the play, though repeated endlessly.
The fault for all this lies in the hands of its star, Geoffrey Rush (and the director) who was so interested in "eating" up the stage every moment that the role escaped with him, and from him. Rush was intent on being in the spotlight and tried every theatrical schtik he could steal from the Marx Brothers, Harold Lloyd, and every other clown who ever lived. Admittedly, Rush has a great body; he seems to be made of rubber and he executes his endless falling down incredibly well, but how many times do we need to see this? He's more like Ray Bolger In "The Wizard of Oz" when Bolger, falling down, was actually funny and appropriate. O. K., the king is ill and his court are waiting for him to die. But he refuses, and he refuses for two hours repeating the same ideas about death in the same tone. Now really, what do these plays and these actors want from us? Sit there for almost three hours and contemplate death with those on stage who are ranting, some trying to be funny, some in ridiculous costumes and some like Susan Sarandon who is out of play altogether. Maybe she's thinking of her next vehicle, but she has not the slightest energy or the slightest appeal on stage. Which is a pity because she's so good in the movies (why don't movie stars stay where they are comfortable? Why do they come to Broadway only to flop?)
To get back to the main star. Actors who are aware of themselves, who know they are acting, who play to the audience, who do all kinds of tricks for a laugh, who think that absurdist plays must be played outlandishly --white face, ugly makeup, crazy crowns, crazy costumes, all aiming for laughs and in a word their self aggrandizement is plain to see, so common with many stars.
Ionesco was sincere in posing questions about man's destiny and his fury against it, but the topic cannot last for almost three hours--with an intermission that breaks the continuity. One hour about death is plenty. We get it.
Margaret Croyden's latest book is "Conversations with Peter Brook, 1970-2000" (Fairer, Straus and Giroux).
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