Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Exit the King (sort of a review)

I am probably one of the least likely candidates for theater criticism, owing to my long-standing habit of falling asleep for at least a brief period during nearly every live performance I have ever attended--and that has included rock concerts, flamenco performances and comedy shows--but since I only fell asleep very, very briefly during a recent performance of Ionesco's "Exit the King" on Broadway, I figure I am, at least in this case, well-enough qualified to comment.

First, let me say that if you are prone to being depressed about things like the economy, death, and the possible presence of a nearby psychopomp, you should not see this show.

For those of you who do not read H.P.Lovecraft and do not have a preternaturally broad vocabulary, a psychopomp is a being or spirit that leads you from life into death as you are dying. Legend has it that whipoorwhills are psychopomps--they cry loudest around houses where someone is dying (it is told).

But back to the Ethel Barrymore Theater and the play:

Susan Sarandon plays the psychopomp, though you don't realize it unitl the end. In flat, unsympathetic tones, she, the older queen, informs the King he shall soon die. The King denies all--selfishly, moodily, and with a certain goofy grandiloquence. His younger "queen" denies it as well, but only as it serves her--she eventually accepts his imminent death.

There is a doctor who helps us understand that the very heavens are cracking, but he struck me as near-irrelevant. As did the armor-clad simpleton who made press-conference-like announcements. A servant-woman was more pithy and anchored the story some.

In the end, the king accepts that he is to die, as is his kingdom to perish entirely and clearly this is metaphor for all life and all death: postulating that what we perceive as us and ours ceases to be--literally--at the moment of dissolution.

Perhaps that's why the elder queen became a sympathetic character at the end, leading the king through the necessary portals to his doom.

Here's to the psychopomp! As necessary as a crossing guard, perhaps?

In the meantime, if you enjoy comedy of the blackest sort, do see the show--it is well acted and Geoffrey Rush is up for a Tony.