In 1896, French dramatist Alfred Jarry’s coarse antihero Pa Ubu strutted onto Paris’ Theatre de l’Oeuvre stage and blared his opening line, “Merde!” The ensuing audience riot lasted for more than 20 minutes. Helmer Julia Rodriguez-Elliott’s staging of Jarry’s landmark precursor to surrealistic modern drama gleefully highlights the comical, absurdist elements of the rise and fall of Ubu (Alan Blumenfeld) and his cohort in crime, Ma Ubu (Deborah Strang), while downplaying the scripter’s scathing indictment of the bourgeoisie. The helmer’s vision is impressively realized by a committed ensemble and the musical underscoring of composer/keyboardist David O.
Loosely based on “Macbeth,” Jarry’s jaundiced view of mankind is distilled into the gluttonous and cowardly persona of Ubu, who is jeered into murdering the King of Poland (Mitchell Edmonds) by the equally craven but much more calculating Ma Ubu. Strang plays her to the scenery-chewing hilt.
There is certainly nothing calculating about Blumenfeld’s Pa Ubu, who exudes a ravenous sense of entitlement as he murders his nobles, robs the treasury, pillages the citizenry and occasionally defecates in plain view. But when his character senses personal danger, Blumenfeld’s hyper, clownish antics turn more Cowardly Lion than ferocious.
Rodriguez-Elliott has staged the tyrannical adventures of this depraved Everyman as fast-paced pseudo circus entertainment, with elongated balloons serving as swords and kazoos replacing trumpets. Even when Polish soldiers ravage peasant girl Anna (Jill Hill) and her sisters, everyone first dances a light-hearted minuet.
Unlike Jarry’s misanthropic depiction of the downfall of western civilization at the hands of an intellectually and aesthetically deprived middle class, this Noise Within staging suggests the world is in no danger from characters like Ubu. They will simply sink under the weight of their own excesses.
The main strength of “Ubu Roi” is the facile interplay of a talented, hard-working ensemble that never allows the thematic machinations to lag during the helmer’s complicated choreographed routines and myriad rapid-fire scene changes. Particularly rewarding are Edmonds’ properly buffoonish turns as King Wenceslas and less-than-capable army leader General Laski. Also noteworthy is Shaun Taylor-Corbett’s oh-so-earnest perf as Wenceslas’ callow avenging son, Prince Boggerlas.
David O.’s original score infuses tantalizing elements of jazz, cabaret, folk music, impressionism and atonal modernism, all of which nicely highlight the onstage action. Also impressive is the evocative modular set by Melissa Ficociello.