Poet T.S. Eliot observed that nonsense is not a lack of sense but a parody of sense. That's certainly true of this "anti-play" by Romanian-French playwright Eugene Ionesco, which was to become one of the seminal works of the absurdist school. The program notes tell us grimly that Ionesco "dramatizes the absurdity and meaninglessness of social conventions" and exposes "the futile and mechanical nature of modern civilization." But what we see on stage is a hilariously wacky exercise in verbal and intellectual slapstick. Mr. and Mrs. Smith (played by Jeff Atik and David E. Frank, in tasteful drag) are a middle-class couple whose stopped clock strikes randomly and at length. Their smug, self-satisfied after-dinner conversation is limited to the most mundane topics, but it keeps jumping the rails as they discuss a large extended family, all of whose members, male or female, are named Bobby Watson. Marie, their impertinent — and perhaps myopic — maid (Alisha Nichols) is being courted by the local Fire Chief (Maximiliano Molina). The Smiths are quite alarmed by the arrival of unexpected guests, Mr. and Mrs. Martin (Bo Roberts and Cynthia Mance), who have come to dinner. It's not entirely clear if the Martins were invited and forgotten, came on the wrong night, or whatever, but in any case no dinner is ever served. And in the play's most famous scene, the Martins discover in the course of a long conversation that they are man and wife. This being an absurdist comedy, the Bald Soprano never appears, though we are told, "She always wears her hair in a different style." (And in this production, we hear her, performing the vocal acrobatics of the Queen of the Night's aria from Mozart's The Magic Flute.) Director Frederíque Michel (who also adapted the translation by Donald M. Allen) keeps the chaotic happenings under iron control but maintains the comic intensity by poising all her characters on the brink of madness. Like demented wind-up toys, they pursue their illogical activities earnestly, with relentless logic, and the actors play them with manic energy. Designer-dramaturge Charles A. Duncombe provides the admirably simple set.
Presented by and at City Garage, 1340-1/2 Fourth St., Santa Monica. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 5:30 p.m. Nov. 9-Dec. 16. (310) 319-9939. www.citygarage.org.