Annie Bassett '02 acted in both productions, speaking French as M. Smith and cockney English as the maid, Mary.
The Bald Soprano / La Cantatrice Chauve
Interdisciplinary, international, intriguing -- Ionesco. The winter term main stage production was really two productions of the same play, Ionesco's classic comic "anti-play," The Bald Soprano-- or La Cantatrice Chauve in French -- directed by drama instructor Amy Chartoff. Each performance featured back-to-back renditions of the one-act play, the first in English and the second in French. Though they had different casts, the two productions used the same set and lighting; designers Cary Wendell (set) and Kate Krier (lighting) modified these to reflect either stuffy British or romantically Gallic nuances. Set and lighting also visually reinforced the disintegration of language and communication that occurs in the play, with walls that buckled at the end of The Bald Soprano, and literally burst apart at the climax of La Cantatrice Chauve.
Putting on a play in French meant creating opportunities for students who were already quite fluent in the language. "The project became a way to bring students who might never have tried out for a play into the theater," says Chartoff, who directed both productions with support from PEA French teachers. Chartoff says what made working simultaneously on the two shows so much fun was seeing the degree to which people's behavior, emotions and attitudes can be influenced by culture—even from a culture once removed. "You have Americans pretending to be French people pretending to be English people in French; or pretending to be English in English, from a script written by a French-speaking Rumanian," she says.
In The Bald Soprano, a conversation between the Smiths, the Martins, the maid and a visiting fire chief escapes the confines of logic and order. The play grew out of Ionesco's own experience of learning to speak English at age 40. As he struggled to master the textbook dialogues between Mr. and Mrs. Smith in his conversation primer, Ionesco later wrote, "I don't know how—the text began imperceptibly to change before my eyes." He found that "the clichés and truisms of the conversation primer, which had once made sense…descended into wild caricature and parody, and in the end the language disintegrated into disjointed fragments of words." Says Chartoff, "A challenge for the actors in the play is to find out what people are really saying to each other, what is really going on behind the empty words of a social conversation."
About the experience of watching both productions, stage manager Tanya Balsky '02 says, "Since the English production was first, you knew the plot and basic premise of what was going on in the French play. However, since the acting and technical styles were different, the play took on different meanings in the two productions. It was a wonderful example of how a play can change dramatically with even small changes in interpretation." - lsc