Sprinkled with such elusive observations as “The ceiling is above, the floor is below,” or “When I say yes, it’s only a manner of speaking,” Eugene Ionesco’s “The Bald Soprano” is a dizzyingly oblique word game that helped give birth to the Theater of the Absurd. The 1950 playlet proves a summer benediction for the Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey, its outrageously manic energy and obscure wit well served by Matthew Arbour’s direction and the cast’s cartoonish performances.
Nonsensical after-dinner blather is shared by the very garrulous Mr. and Mrs. Smith, staunchly realized by Matthew Floyd Miller and Kelly McAndrew. The Smiths become the unlikely hosts to dithery guests Mr. and Mrs. Martin, a pair of deliciously insipid visitors played with extravagant foolishness by Greg Jackson and Mary Bacon.
The funniest exchange finds the Martins’ desperate attempt to unravel their own personal relationship as they await the arrival of their hosts. Jackson’s owlish expressions of doubt and wonder are preciously goofy, and he is well matched in Bacon’s ditsy wife. Miller is amusing as a stiff wind-up Brit who manages to tick in synchronization with his clock, while McAndrew perfectly reveals the inner suffering and despair of the perennial dumb blonde.
Add to the ribald insanity Angela Pierce’s maid, who claims to be Sherlock Holmes as she makes a futile attempt to fathom the hosts’ complex relationship. The verbal mayhem peaks with the arrival of a loony Fire Chief, played by Walker Jones with the expansive abandon of a Keystone Kop.
The unique pleasures of this landmark abstract satire are to be found in the layered absurdities of the playwright’s corrosive language. As delivered with vaudeville spirit by a cunning cast, it serves as a fleeting hour of fun and fancy — even if it does leave the viewer scratching his head.
Director Arbour has paced the stylized piece vigorously, accenting both the despair and the jaunty flippancy of his clowns. Mimi Lien’s startling set design uses a giant wooden packing crate, opened and raised to reveal a modestly gaudy living room in the London suburbs. One need only observe the picture frames on the wall that echo the chintzy flowery print of the wallpaper to be coaxed into the insanity that follows.