Los Angeles Theater Review: IONESCOPADE (Odyssey)

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by Jesse Herwitz on June 4, 2013

in Theater-Los Angeles


The show begins in darkness with a musical overture blazing through the air. Slowly the glow of a yellow moon appears in the background, a man’s face superimposed on it. We have a brief moment to meditate on it before a straggly-haired man, the writer, bound in a straight jacket, makes his way to the black and white checkered Jesse Herwitz' Stage and Cinema LA review of IONESCOPADE at the Odyssey Theatrestage, violently trying to free himself. To his sides are long, red, wooden curtains; to his back, the moon watches with an uneven grin. Upon disentanglement, the man’s agonized expressions become a child-like smile as he spreads his arms to the audience, revealing “IONESCOPADE” in big letters across his chest. This is how the evening starts and fortunately persists in Odyssey Theatre Ensemble Ionescopade: A Musical Vaudeville, which celebrates the life and works of Eugene Ionesco, the Romanian-born French playwright, most famous for his contribution to the mid-twentieth century movement known as Theatre of the Absurd (see Stage and Cinema’s explanatory piece on Theatre of the Absurd/Existentialism).

Jesse Herwitz' Stage and Cinema LA review of IONESCOPADE at the Odyssey TheatreConceived by Robert Allan Ackerman with music and lyrics by Mildred Kayden, Ionescopade blends original dialogues and monologues from Ionesco’s plays (The Killer, The Leader) with re-imagined song and dance routines inspired by some of his personal journals. Also incorporated are new situations featuring characters of those previous plays. First staged Off-Off-Broadway in 1974, Ionescopade moved to Off-Broadway shortly thereafter, finally making its way to Los Angeles in 1982, where it was directed and choreographed then, as now, by Bill Castellino.

Jesse Herwitz' Stage and Cinema LA review of IONESCOPADE at the Odyssey TheatreFramed as early 20thcentury vaudeville, the show is largely episodic with 5-6 minute segments either taken directly from Ionesco’s work or reinterpreted by Ackerman and Kayden. The work is episodic in nature, but not without a certain sequential order. Moments of innocent questioning (“Voyages”) and learning (The Cooking Lesson), give way to the reckoning of war (“Frenzy For Two”) and the rise of a new, more matured line of questioning (The Killer). Further, the introduction of a new set of family values in “The Bobby Watsons” leads to the internal struggle of “Fire” before culminating in “Wipe Out Games.”

What is most revealing about this narrative, though, is how very un-Ionesco the resolution (if such a word can be mentioned) is. That is, although Ionescopade makes a home in the absurd, it does not belong to the Theatre of the Absurd proper. Jesse Herwitz' Stage and Cinema LA review of IONESCOPADE at the Odyssey TheatreWith one six word message (words which will not be disclosed here), Ionescopade offers the audience a certain amount of hope – a hope not typically found in the playwright’s oeuvre.

As with many Off-Broadway productions from the late 1960s and 70s, this is a true ensemble performance with only one recurring character, the writer, played spritely by Alan Abelew. All the actors have their individual standout moments, but Andrew Ableson’s heartfelt monologue from The Killer, and Joey D’Auria’s playful crowd-pleasing song “Josette” (with lyrics and music adapted by Kayden) are especially memorable. This is a production that revels in its madness and the talent of its cast. The second half exceeds the first in terms of overall entertainment, partly due to the actors getting more in tune with the audience, and mostly because the material is more, for lack of a better word, engaging.

Jesse Herwitz' Stage and Cinema LA review of IONESCOPADE at the Odyssey TheatreIonescopade celebrates a type of fun that is often dark and often borders on morbid political satire. Tender moments like the writer capturing light so a young couple can better see the stars is quickly contrasted by the writer donning an umbrella with scattered doll parts hanging by gluey strings of blood. As Mr. Castellino suggests in the playbill, Ionesco “wrote many of his plays during and after World War II in France [which was] impacted by Nazi occupation, repression, paranoia.” As such, many of the spoken and sung lines speak directly to those themes.

Jesse Herwitz' Stage and Cinema LA review of IONESCOPADE at the Odyssey Theatre“Where does heaven come from?”

“When the entire world is covered in cemetery, where will they put the dead? Where will they put the ashes?”

“I wear a smile even when I cry.”

“But the leader doesn’t have a head. Why does he need a head?”

Perhaps the greatest attribute of Castellino’s direction is his ability to keep both the horror and humor at arm’s length from each other. The biggest surprise of Ionescopade, although not explicitly stated, is that there is something of a love story (yes, love story) to be found among the madness. A constant theme of this production is the exploration of how relationships – whether romantic, familial or brotherly – come together, adapt, and survive maddening (or mundane) times.

Still, for the answer to whether “Madness is wonderful!” (as one character proclaims) or just, well, maddening, one must to take a trip on their own to that absurd moon and see what comes about.

Jesse Herwitz' Stage and Cinema LA review of IONESCOPADE at the Odyssey Theatre

photos by Enci Box

Odyssey Theatre
, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd.
scheduled to end on August 1, 2013
for tickets, call 310-477-2055 ext. 2. or visit http://www.OdysseyTheatre.com

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