Eugene Ionesco was a heavyweight in the domain of the Absurd, and theatre troupe Nepal Shakes has taken on one of his most celebrated plays, Exit the King. This dramatic piece is a staple in the Theatre of the Absurd, a host of dark comedies and satires that challenges the very meaning of human life and mortality, and the play traces the slow but certain demise of a sovereign who has lived and ruled beyond his tenure.
Bérenger the First, a once-omnipotent monarch, faces a crisis of sorts when his court is reduced to two wives and a few loyal servants. Bérenger's denial of this decline is evident from the start, and his refusal to succumb to death, both political and literal, reflects the degree of his self-centredness; as the story progresses, however, the character begins to acknowledge the inevitability of his demise.
When engaging in absurd comedy one needs the foresight and moderation to ensure that parody and satire don't run into the realm of sheer buffoonery, and this was the challenge before the cast and crew at Rato Bangala. Mita Hosali, the Elder Queen in this production, spoke to Nepali Times about how this production engaged with Ionesco's play.
What prompted you to take on Exit the King?
Eelum (the director) brought up Exit the King because he felt it conveyed a lot of meaning about the meaninglessness of our lives. I read it and thought, wow, it has so many layers, and it provides opportunities for both dark and high comedy. Also, it contains characters who are irresponsible, self-absorbed and consumed by their own mortality, and the more we thought about it, we saw how relevant it was in representing not only local but also global political realities.
How did you engage with Ionesco's dramatic and comedic style?
Our challenge was to explore the inherent comedic moments by first developing an affinity for the quirks of individual characters; the more we delved into their idiosyncrasies, the easier it became to discover the comedy. We also needed to really feel the moments themselves, and to understand the trajectories and motivations of each of the characters. For instance, while the older characters like the King and Elder Queen needed to be depicted as members of a vanishing species that possessed stature and breeding, the younger characters needed to be portrayed as lighter and more accessible.
What kinds of challenges did you face?
Absurd comedy is a very particular genre, and there's so much complexity in the characters and their situations. The challenge was finding equilibrium – we couldn't let the play become too dense because we wanted to maintain a degree of levity. It was helpful to be working with a director who is a trained actor; Eelum really helped us discover moments of pathos and poignancy while never losing sight of the comedy embedded within.
How do you expect the play to be received?
You really never know, but we hope that the audience will forgive us for not going for the obvious in terms of choice. Exit the King is a wonderful, tight play – we've enjoyed every moment of it – and we hope the audience will as well.
Exit the King will open at the Kamal Mani Theatre at Rato Bangala School on Friday, 30 July. Call 5522113 for details.
- Supriya Sharma