Playwright Eugene Ionesco puts the torturous flavor of fascism front and center in this French absurdist and comedic work. The Romanian-born French Ionesco uses metaphor, surrealism and irrational machinations in rapid fire to deliver a commentary on life controlled by maniacal political systems. A Red Orchid Theatre’s Victims of Duty has never been so pertinent to life in these United States.
Coherence – The Missing Thread
Theater fans expecting a coherent plot will be lost looking for the thread that will sew the piece together. It is not there. Instead we are presented with a pastiche of human behavior – at once coherent and in the next moment incoherent. The tapestry is the vehicle for delivery of pronouncement against behavior that has lost its moral bearing.
Choubert is the tightly laced French citizen playing armchair politics with the daily paper. Wife Madeleine is his witty foil encouraging a “color inside the lines” ennui; underscoring a state-sponsored detachment from engagement for people in big cities. The detective rapping at the front door sends Choubert on a Homeric odyssey in search of the previous tenant who has gone missing.
The detective is a bit of a sadistic brute, pushing our “every man” Choubert to plum the depths of his tightly controlled life. Moments after he is invited to sit, the detective demands Choubert remove his tie, his constricting belt and his shoelaces. Torture by ingestion of French bread is not off limits no matter the cost to his psyche. Choubert’s descent into existential crisis is at once depicted as a swim to the bottom of a pool and again as the ascent of a mountain peak.
A Red Orchid Theatre with a Bathtub!
A clawfoot tub graces the set front and center. The entrance to Choubert and Madeleine’s flat has a chasm of water as well. The actors are in and out of the water in full dress throughout the play. Soaked shoes, shirts and suits seem to drag them more fully into apprehension. A good splash is the occasion for a proclamation of despair over having taken the wrong road.
Madeleine is enticed by the strong-jawed detective and does not hesitate to seduce her way into his good graces. She serves him coffee obsessively, filling the stage with coffee cups as though reality has become obsolete. Madeleine is pre-feminist, both encouraging and discouraging to her husband even as she manages to exorcise the detective’s sadism with her charm.
An Indictment of Theater
The poet Nicolas D’eu appears at the apartment door and slanders the state of poetry and theater. In his voice, we can’t help but feel Ionesco’s own angst about the state of his art and the threat to his integrity. As witness to two fascist regimes, he knows the tenor of the playing field. The absurdist playwright has learned to disguise his indictments well. The poet is likely the most redemptive character of the one act play.
Theater of the Absurd – A Rapidly Acquired Taste
It does not take long for theatergoers to become acquainted with French absurdist theater. In the first five minutes of the play, we sense we are on a wild ride. From this writer’s viewpoint Victims of Duty is a thinking person’s play. It is a laughing person’s play. Ionesco’s words carry the flavor of the absurdity of our own news cycle making it a prophetic and important work.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Guy Van Swearingen
Shira Piven (Director) Danila Korogodsky (Production Design), Ensemble Member Mike Durst (Lighting Design), and Brando Triantafilou (Sound Design)
Thru August 5, 2018
Tuesdays, July 17 and 31 @ 7:30PM
Wednesdays, July 11 and 25 @ 7:30PM
Thursdays, July 12, 19 and 26 @ 7:30PM
Fridays, July 13 and 20 and August 3 @ 7:30PM
Saturdays, July 21 and 28 and August 4 @ 3:00PM
and July 14, 21 and 28 and August 4 @ 7:30PM
Sundays, July 22, 29 and August 5 @ 3:00PM
A Red Orchid Theatre
1531 N. Wells Avenue
Note: An excerpt of this review appears in Theatre in Chicago
About the Author:
Stephen B. Starr is Principal of Stephen B. Starr Design, Inc., a design and communication consultancy in Evanston, IL. Stephen is a former president of the Chicago Creative Coalition, organizer for the Chicago Weekly Sitting Meditation Group and founded and organized the Chicago Web Professionals for 12 years. Stephen is nurtured creatively by the fine art of story-telling — especially in the theater. As a college journalism major, he has since followed the siren’s call of poetry and short story writing in his free time. He is interested in the wisdom of indigenous spiritual traditions and seeks inspiration in natural settings by gardening, camping, hiking and biking.