'The Bald Soprano' Is an Absurdist 'Anti-Christmas' Present From City Garage

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Photo Source: Paul M. Rubinstein

Just in time for the banal bantering, household hopping, and gourmet gorging about to fill our holiday platters, City Garage gives us a remounting of its 2007 production of Eugène Ionesco’s absurdist classic “The Bald Soprano,” newly subtitled as “A Christmas Anti-Play.” The setting has been relocated to the suburbs of Paris in a new translation by Frédérique Michel and Charles A. Duncombe. Presented with an oddball reverence and dripping with mid-20th-century style, the production is a real treat.

Directed by Michel, “The Bald Soprano” opens with a scene of stunningly skewed retro domesticity on Duncombe’s picture-perfect setting. David E. Frank is in hostess apparel as a suitably manic Mrs. Smith, trimming the tree and setting the world aright one nail-polish color at a time as the clock strikes 17, while Jeff Atik’s squat Mr. Smith, sporting an eye-catching leopard smoking jacket, is lost in his newspaper. (Meow for Josephine Poinsot’s spot-on costumes.) The couple’s oblique cat-and-mouse games soon take the form of inane, circular, loaded conversations, and the actors are more than up to the challenge.

When the Smith’s dinner guests finally arrive, the addition of the nervously cheerful Martins (Cynthia Mance and Bo Roberts) raises our expectations. We can’t wait to find out what’s really behind the awkward social moments, painful forced smiles, and desperate need to find some element of excitement in everyday life. But of course we never really do, despite the efforts of the acerbic maid Marie (Lena Kay) to set everyone straight and an unexpected diversion from the Fire Chief (Kenneth Rudnicki) during a most fortuitous visit.

This is only the second production in City Garage’s spiffy new performance space, and it’s wonderful to see this dependably outrageous company stretch out and get a bit more breathing room. Michel seems right at home, directing with a customarily sure hand and careful attention to detail, choreographing each movement and sound onstage. Duncombe’s lighting and Paul M Rubenstein’s sound add more polished layers.

Kudos to the solid company of performers, who are savvy enough to trust Michel and the material and get full mileage out of everything they collectively bring to the party. There’s a particularly hilarious moment involving a Santa hat. Especially if you’ve got a taste for the absurd, this is one of those holiday gatherings you won’t want to miss.

Presented by City Garage at Bergamot Station Arts Center, Building T1, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica. Nov. 1–Dec. 23. (800) 838-3006, (310) 319-9939, www.brownpapertickets.com, or www.citygarage.org.

Critic’s Score: A