Hello again, dear @adsactly readers,
Right now, my brain is still debating whether writing this post is a good idea or not. Because as a theater lover, I know “The Bald Soprano” should definitely be on our list of benchmark theater. After all, it holds the World Record for the play that has been staged continuously in the same theater for the longest period of time. It’s a staple for any aspiring actor and one of the most befuddling things I have ever read.
Which is exactly why I find it so difficult to start this. It’s a very hard play to explain, to analyze. If you remember, earlier in the series we talked about another Ionesco play, “The Lesson”, which was also confusing and a prime example of the Theater of the Absurd, but let me tell you, that one seems tame in comparison to “The Bald Soprano”.
But let’s give it a go and start with a little summary. The play begins with a couple, the Smiths, sitting in their living room, talking utter non-sense. Mrs. Smith recounts the evening’s events to her husband, even though he was right there and had witnessed everything himself. After this, they discuss a family comprised of people names Bobby Watson, disagreeing over whether a certain Bobby Watson is dead or not.
At this point, their maid, Mary, enters and announces their guests, the Martins, have arrived and the Smiths go upstairs to change. Mary sees the guests into the living room, yells at them for being late, then leaves, and the Martins proceed to discuss a long string of coincidences – such as their living in the same house, sleeping in the same bed and even taking the same train, from which they infer they must be a married couple, even thought they don’t remember being one. Mary returns and explains to the audience that this logic is faulty and that the Martins may very well not be a couple, after all.
The Smiths return and the four discuss the “fantastic” story of a man tying his shoelace.
They are joined by The Fireman, who has arrived to check if there is a fire inside a house. Disappointed to find there is none, he settles in and begins talking non-sense of his own. It’s later revealed that he is Mary’s first love. The Smiths feel offended that Mary should want to tell stories of her own and kick her off stage as she recites her poem for the Fireman.
In turn, the Fireman leaves to attend to a fire across town and the remaining four lose all control.
MR. MARTIN: One doesn't polish spectacles with black wax.
MRS. SMITH: Yes, but with money one can buy anything.
MR. MARTIN: I'd rather kill a rabbit than sing in the garden.
MR. SMITH: Cockatoos, cockatoos, cockatoos, cockatoos, cockatoos, cockatoos, cockatoos, cockatoos, cockatoos, cockatoos.
The play ends with the Martins sitting in the exact same spot the Smiths were sitting in at the beginning of the play and saying the exact same things.
The biggest theme of the play, like with many of Ionesco’s writings, seems to be communication. If you remember, in “The Lesson” as well, there was a lot of seeming non-sense talk, though not quite on the same level we see in “The Bald Soprano”.
Ionesco seems to be asking the question, is it truly possible for one to communicate using language? Accused by many of having a cynical view on the subject, Ionesco famously defended himself, claiming that he wasn’t cynical towards language, as it was a key part of his job. And so, a question arises in the mind of the audience – throughout this babbling non-sense, is there a moment of real communication in the whole play?
Does the fact that they’re speaking non-sense actually stop the characters from communicating something meaningful?
Perhaps. I think it really depends on the reader/viewer and on his/her own personal interpretation. There are those who argue that Ionesco is lamenting the tragic death of language and the irreversible fall into cliches and “dead” language, platitudes that don’t really communicate anything. On the other hand, one can argue that the characters are communicating through far more than speech and that while their words may be non-sense, their meaning is not. Perhaps there are two plays going on at the same time – the one we hear and the one we see.
Another big theme in “The Bald Soprano” is isolation, an issue that seems to stem from the absence of communication. Take for example, the conversations the Martins have when they arrive to the party, where they have to establish a few apparent coincidences to determine they are, in fact, man and wife.
The characters often give the impression of being alone, emotionally, mentally. Like when Mrs Smith tells Mr Smith what’s been going on, seemingly unaware that he was there the whole time.
Ionesco also taken an interesting approach to the issue of time. Like with many absurdist plays (think Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot”), time is a shaky subject in “The Bald Soprano” and rather than being a linear progression, it’s represented as a loop, marked by the fact that the ending mirrors the end. Just as Estragon and Vladimir seem to be caught in a vicious circle of repeating the same moments over and over, the characters of “The Bald Soprano” are trapped inside their own little loop of jumbled words and not knowing exactly what’s going on around them.
The author marks this in a particularly interesting stage direction:
"The English clock strikes 17 English strokes"
Throughout the play, the clock goes completely haywire and strikes at random moments, practically begging the question, is time passing at all?
There are many fascinating themes and symbols that Ionesco approaches in his classic play and I do hope I’ve managed to pique your interest with this post. Given that it’s such a popular play, I’m pretty sure you have high chances of finding it live somewhere near you. If not, there are, from what I’ve seen, online clips of representations and I would encourage you to read through this mind-boggling play yourself, as it’s quite short and you catch a lot of subtleties by reading it yourself.