Theatre Review

Wilbury Group finds the absurd in Ionesco play


The sad news is that Perishable Theatre has thrown in the towel after 26 years of providing cutting edge theatre at 95 Empire Street in Providence.

The happy news is that AS220, the successful arts organization, has taken over the next-door space and made it available to a number of nomadic theatre groups.

The Wilbury Group is one of those organizations. This collaboration of artists has performed in old, spacious, run-down factories and a small, crowded waterfront facility. The space at 95 Empire St. fits perfectly into their up-close, in-your-face theatrical style.

Wilbury has taken on Eugene Ionesco’s absurdist play “Exit the King” and made it their own. A most-talented cast of six has taken the comedy/tragedy and filled the tiny space with action that requires split-second timing and attention to detail. The actors have some of the most hilarious entrances I’ve ever seen. Their exits are a bit more somber.

“You’re going to die at the end of the show,” King Berenger’s first wife tells him (and the audience), so we know that after two hours of the play, done in one long act, the king will certainly exit.

Before that, we learn that the king is deathly ill and having a rough time dealing with his mortality. His kingdom has gone to the dogs, as he has successfully killed most of his subjects.

The king (Jed Hancock-Brainerd) had never thought much about his future, thinking he was immortal. His first wife, Marguerite (Rebecca Noon), keeps reminding him, while his second wife, Marie (Lara Maynard), leads him in his denial.

“Why was I born, if it wasn’t forever?” the king asks.

What we get beneath the surface of this very funny play is the author struggling with his own death. Hancock-Brainerd is a great physical actor, as he goes through the death process. He is “helped” by his doctor, a hysterical Bobby Casey, and his maid, a doubly hysterical Melissa Bowler.

Maids’ roles are usually reserved for the more inexperienced actor, but Bowler takes the role to high levels. An accomplished comedienne in her own right, she steals the show whenever she is on stage.

Rounding out the cast is Jeff Hodge as the guard who repeats the king’s silly proclamations.

All have their moments in this clever play, filled with a number of analogies about dealing with one’s inevitable death.

“Exit the King” is at 95 Empire St. through Sunday, Jan. 15. Tickets are $20, $15 for students and seniors, with a pay-what-you-can Sunday at 2 p.m. There are performances Thursday through Sunday at 7:30 p.m.


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