Four hundred years of life is not nearly enough for King Berenger in the Pearl Theater's production of Ionesco's Exit the King. "If I could have a whole century before me, perhaps then I'd have time," moans the King (Robert Hock). Unfortunately, he has only one hour and a half to live and we, the audience, watch as he proceeds from health to death in a comic/tragic struggle for immortality.
The King weaves and skirmishes through his last campaign. In his final journey, he travels from arrogance: "They promised me I could choose the time when I would die." To amazement at the simple pleasures of life: "You take the same road twice a day. And you breathe the air. You never realize you're breathing. You must think about it. Remember! I'm sure it never crosses your mind. It's a miracle". Perhaps his newly found appreciation of life can help us now as we try to cope with the tragedy of September 11th.
Of course, Exit the King is replete with the comedy we expect to find in theater of the absurd. The King, touchingly played by Robert Hock, rattles on endlessly in his protest against death until his ferocious first wife, Queen Marguerite (Carole Schultz) says, "It's only his speeches that are never ending!" His poppet second wife, Queen Marie (Celeste Ciulla) in mini skirt and low cut top, keeps begging for his love, wishing for his continued life and realizing her own imminent loss of status as his life and memory slip away.
Ray Virta portrays the doctor, who is also surgeon, executioner, bacteriologist and astrologist, with the perfect combination of phony caring and arrogant pontification. He confidently confirms his diagnosis that the king must die by stating that "Mars and Saturn have collided." And so it goes through the play as the doctor or Queen Marguerite continually give us updates on how many minutes the King has left to live.
Modernized to a corporate setting, director Joseph Hardy remains faithful to the purpose and meaning of Ionesco's play. Several performances stand out in this ensemble work of generally excellent acting. Noteworthy were Robert Hock as the egotistical, self-centered King Berenger, Carol Schultz, the determined, bitter, pragmatic Queen Marguerite and Ray Virta, the perfunctory, know-it-all doctor. Michael Nichols was particularly amusing as the bellowing, befuddled guard.
Exit the King was last performed in a high profile production in New York in the late 1960's. If that time frame holds, the next production will be in the late 2030's. If you are interested in Ionesco and, in particular, theater of the absurd, perhaps now's the time to see the Pearl's production.
Pictured: Celest Ciulla as Marie, Robert Hock as Berenger, Carol Schultz as Marguerite.
Exit the King
Tuesdays at 7 p.m., Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 2 p.m. (no performance Tuesday September 25th)
$28 for weekday performances and Saturday matinees, and $35 for Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday Matinees. Student and senior rush tickets are $10 and available one hour prior to each performance, subject to availability.
Box Office 212 598 9802.