Ionesco Suite

October 15 - 19, 2014

Upstairs at Chicago Shakespeare

from Eugène Ionesco
directed by Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota

The Playwright's Approach

by Marie-France Ionesco

One of the threads of Ionesco Suite, a work on the “Ionescoan universe” which was devised by Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota and his ensemble, is the couple. A theatrical theme which has been constantly visited explored and researched over the centuries (Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, but also Martha and George in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf). But even more than a theme, it is the essential theatrical structure, because the couple, in its broadest sense (Philoctetes and Neoptolemus in Philoctetes, but also Vladimir and Estragon in Waiting for Godot), engenders dialogue, the most flexible form of expression, according to Paul Valéry. For Ionesco, “the couple is the world itself, it’s man and woman, it’s Adam and Eve, it’s the two halves of mankind that love each other, that reunite and cannot stand loving eachother; yet that cannot not love each other, that cannot be without one another. The couple is not only a man and a woman; it is also perhaps a divided mankind that attempts to get together, to reunify.”

If Ionesco, who did not like theater, wrote for theater, it’s precisely because of dialogue: “First, theater has its own way of using speech, it is dialogue, combat and conflict speech.” The dialogue, “conflict speech” allows for intertwining different voices, opposed, contradictory and above all one’s own contradictions. In his conversations with Claude Bonnefoy, he indicated: “If I have written mostly theater rather than novels or non-fiction, it is because non-fiction or even novels call for a coherent thought, whereas incoherence and contradictions can live freely in a play. In theater, the characters can speak total nonsense, any absurdity or misinterpretation they can make up because it is not me who speaks them, it is the characters.” And in Antidotes: “When one writes a novel, one must speak in the characters’ names. Theater, on the contrary, offers the extraordinary possibility of making the characters speak freely, thus illustrating our fantasies and obsessions.”

The Bald Soprano

“The text of The Bald Soprano or the textbook to learn English (or Russian, or Portuguese), made of ready-made expressions, of the most worn-out clichés, thus revealed to me people’s speech and attitude automatism, speaking to no avail, speaking because there is nothing personal to say, lack of inner life, everyday mechanics, man dwelling in his social milieu unable to move apart. The Smiths, the Martins can no longer speak, because they can no longer think, they cannot think because they have forgotten how to be moved, have no passions left, they cannot be, they can become just anyone, anything, for, not being someone, they are nothing but the others, the world of impersonal, they are interchangeable: you could put Martin in Smith’s place and vice-versa, no one will notice. The tragic character does not change, it breaks; it is he, and he is real. Comic characters are people who do not exist.”

The Lesson

“For The Lesson, I wanted to write an ascending curve, to begin slowly, to reach the exaltation of the teacher and then a sudden fall.”In reality there are two curves: the descending curve of the pupil symmetrical to the ascending curve of the teacher. Two energies, two opposing strengths (in the sense used in physics). Opposed curves, indeed, but also: “if one wishes to find a meaning in The Lesson, it’s the omnipotence of desire. The extremely powerful irrationality of desire; instinct is stronger than culture. The Lesson is the story of a rape and the teacher can go on teaching the pupil arithmetic and philology – philology leads to crime – something more violent is at stake.”

With The Bald Soprano and The Lesson appear the characteristics which are inseparable from Ionesco’s theater, the elements that constitute his dramaturgy- proliferation, acceleration leading to a final explosion or dissolution. In Amédée or How to Get Rid of Him, it will be mushrooms and the corpse. In The Chairs… it’s the chairs of course. And in The Future is in the Eggs that concludes Jack or the Submission, it’s the eggs.

Jack or The Submission

Jack or The Submission, subtitled “A naturalistic comedy”, starts as a family melodrama. Jack, the son, a young man from a good family, refuses to follow the family and the social life rules – “I hate potatoes with lard” – and refuses to marry, to perpetuate the family, society… But he will be vanquished; he will give in to Roberte, the bride with three noses. By the way, why three noses? “She is a model woman who has all a man can desire. One could also say that she is a goddess in which all contradictory attributes merge. She is a woman with not only three faces, but an infinity of faces because she is all women. Jack is not only an anarchist, a rebel against social order. He is a metaphysical rebel who will be trapped by Eros, who will give in to the biological and will be sentenced to laying eggs (The Future is in the Eggs). Eggs that are used to make omelets… To engender eggs (the living) is to engender omelets (the dead).

Delirium for Two

Are the cochlea and the turtle the same animal or two different animals? This is the cause of a ridiculous, laughable and disposable conflict, like are all conflicts for Ionesco. Or to be more specific, the cause of the conflict does not matter. What is important in the characters – here Him and Her – is desire, energy and the irrepressible strength of conflict. Conflict, combat, aggression, these are the first and ultimate expressions in human beings of the will to live. To the micro-conflict between Her and Him corresponds, as in a perspective, the outer conflict, where civil war is unleashed, where people are killing each other. One mustn’t’ forget the complete title of the play is Delirium for Two… or for as many as one wants.

It is clear that the other thread of these four plays of which Ionesco Suite interweaves excerpts is combat, aggressiveness, conflict leading to explosion or final damnation (to lay eggs for Jack or to quarrel endlessly for Her and Him).

And Ionesco never stops questioning our being which, to him, is a conflictual being. Without end, he questions and provides a possible key: “NOT TO DIE. No one would hate anyone. No one would be jealous of anyone. One would love one another. One could start over indefinitely, from time to time, something would be accomplished. One time out of one hundred or one thousand, success. Numbers would make it possible. We know we cannot take chances forever. Hate is the expression of our anguish, of our lack of time. Jealousy is the expression of our fear to be abandoned: abandoned in mortal life, abandoned in life, abandoned in death.”

Back to Ionesco Suite

Additional Pages