Not I/Frenzy for Two, or More | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Not I/Frenzy for Two, or More 

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NOT I and


at Cafe Voltaire

Eugene Ionesco frequently illustrated his favorite theme--the isolation of the individual in a world of banality--by placing an ordinary middle-class couple in a room and then having something attempt to invade the room. The menacing annoyance might be a war (A Hell of a Mess), a growing corpse in the next room (Amedee), or a stream of invisible guests (The Chairs). In Frenzy for Two, or More . . . (sometimes translated as Frenzy for Two, and the Same to You . . .) the invader is a war outside the small apartment where an artist and his mistress, identified only as He and She, squabble over whether they weren't better off with their former spouses. "If I'd never seen you, we'd never have met. Perhaps I'd be traveling now, perhaps I'd be younger," sighs He. She whines, "I left my children behind--the children I never had--but I could have had children, as many as I liked."

Occasionally, when the conflagration comes too near, they abandon this pastime to unite in barricading the doors and windows. But once the threat subsides they return to their bickering. The neighbors have been taken away by the soldiers already. "Keep calm, it's not us they're after," He assures She. Ionesco might mean them to be bourgeois citizens who ignore atrocities and totalitarianism as long as it doesn't affect them, but there's no clear indication that they are, and there's no indication who's fighting whom in the street below.

The production at the Cafe Voltaire, assembled under the direction of J. David Blazevich, gives this somewhat run-of-the-mill sketch cute and quirky touches. The Matisse-influenced set, all red and blue swirls and squares, is rigged with so many moving parts that it all but jumps up and dances by itself. An unseen orchestra picks up the strains of "Parlez moi d'amour," the song that precedes the show, and reproduces it on a kazoo and slide whistle. The orchestra also provides the play's sound effects, on instruments ranging from cymbals and a friction drum to a moo box and something that sounds like a tambourine filled with broken glass.

The casting is equally eccentric, with the petite Claire Sheldon playing He and the strapping Mark Insko playing She. Though their transvestite garb fools nobody, the two go through the motions of "exposing" one another--at one point Insko rips off Sheldon's mustache, whereupon she pulls off his wig, as if his hirsute arms and legs had not made his gender obvious. This unnecessary gimmick aside, both performers deliver energetic, straight-faced portrayals and appear to have a jolly time scrabbling about in the debris that accumulates onstage over the course of the play--a shredded head of lettuce, two partially consumed wieners, several dismembered dolls, jungle-camouflaged missiles of various shapes and sizes. This clutter is hurled and showered onstage by Liz Cruger and Gareth Hendee, who also supply the score and appear now and then as eerie, insect-eyed soldiers.

The curtain raiser, Samuel Beckett's Not I, is another lightweight snippet of literary genius, more or less about an old woman who breaks a lifetime of silence. A pair of luminous gloves gesture in sign language on a completely dark stage, while a Rocky Horror Picture Show-style mouth recites. The fixed mouth contrasts vividly with the inflections of its owner's voice and the sweeping ballet of the disembodied hands (though our inability to see the signer's face and torso sometimes obscures the meaning of gestures requiring these other body parts). Under the direction of Hendee, Debra Ann Miller as the Mouth and Christopher Smith as the Hands create a perfect coordination of visual and vocal acrobatics--it's an intense, almost hypnotic sensory display.

The total running time of these two flimsy scripts is only a little more than an hour (with one intermission), and the production zips past so swiftly that it leaves no more impression than a summer breeze. What these clever and inspired artists could do with material of more substance remains to be seen.


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