On the Table: Comedy and Sexuality in The Bald Soprano

I was beyond glad to see that Melissa Thompson came at The Bald Soprano from a comedic standpoint rather than a dramatic one, because different interpretations can yield different results. On the one hand, the theater of the absurd can be viewed through an analytic lens, making incisive social commentary by way of defamiliarization and existential shock. Take Artaud’s To Have Done With the Judgment of God, a raving, vitriolic attack on anyone and everyone, from the clergy to the political elite to the beggars in the alley. While the performance is unsettling up to and beyond a comic note, it is nonetheless a social critique meant to capture the attention of listeners. It could be taken at face value as an absurdly funny piece of work, but its message would be lost in the process.

On the other hand, the theater of the absurd is inherently funny, and should maybe not be taken too seriously. Scholars and thespians alike have a tendency to seek out themes and elements in a work which don’t really exist. Sometimes, things are just funny. For instance, the portrayal of the Fire Chief was comedy gold. His old Hollywood mannerisms and his rapid, staggered way of speaking – like a mix between David Puddy and William Shatner – made him an absolutely hysterical character. Of course, the Fire Chief is not necessarily an unfunny character on paper, but his portrayal onstage was a brilliant choice which added a real element of fun to the experience. I thought letting the natural comedy of the play come through let the absurdity flow, if you will. Rather than suffocating it with an analytical pillow, the director embraced the comedic side of the play, and the resulting absurdity was far more entertaining than a dramatic interpretation of the play would have been.

By that same token, the portrayal of Mr. and Mrs. Martin was another compelling element of the production. The choices the actors made for the characters brought a new sense of depth to them. On paper, Mr. and Mrs. Martin are bland, albeit comically nonsensical, characters. Nothing about them intrigued me beyond their most basic trait of babbling, and even then, the word “intrigued” is being used liberally. But with the way the actors portrayed Mr. and Mrs. Martin, like some sort of depraved androids whose personalities are only exposed after a heavily implied liaison on the couch, made them really pop out as characters.

The choice to create these ultra-dull personalities for the Martins was a stroke of genius. I don’t know what previous productions of this play have done with the characters, but I thought their absurdity increased tenfold by speaking in a wholly uninterested monotone. With every utterance of “good God what a coincidence”, the bit got funnier. And the choice to have their personalities lit aflame by a bout of voracious lovemaking was unthinkably funny. Nothing says “this marriage is over” like being unable to conjure a smile or throw a loving glance without first having your basest needs met by the person you love. Mr. and Mrs. Martin played the role to perfection.

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