CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE ABSURDIST SOUL
nytheatre.com review by Mark O’Toole
When do we cross the line between just plain silly and the absurd?
August 15, 2002
The "absurd" plays by Beckett, Ionesco, Pinter and others all share the view that man inhabits a universe with which he is out of key. Its meaning is indecipherable and his place within it is without purpose. He is bewildered, troubled, obscurely threatened and suffers from an "itchy stomach." As a result, absurd plays assumed a highly unusual, innovative form, directly aiming to startle the viewer, shaking him out of this comfortable, conventional life of everyday concerns. The Theatre of the Absurd openly rebels against conventional theatre.
While Chicken Soup for the Absurdist Soul is an admirable attempt to deal with the genre of the absurd in today’s politically correct world, the play falls short of its mark. The writing at times is inconsistent with its goal of creating an absurd world in which the central point is: can you live life without the ability to escape reality? (As there were no program notes I can only assume that was this production’s intention.)
Eugene, an overwrought, nervous young man, played by Grady Dennis, arrives at a doctor’s office seeking help. What is wrong with him at this point, no one knows. What is clear is that the attendant nurse (Diane Mashbum) has more problems than her erstwhile patient. Three doctors in a well-choreographed scene perform all sorts of absurd tests and diagnose Eugene with having "excessive tumic"; in essence, Eugene is humor impaired. In homage to real absurdity, the antidote is delivered by a sock puppet, who is the play’s central figure. Doctor Number 1 (Jesse Shafer) showed he understood comic timing, while the straightest acting came from Chuckles, the sock puppet, played by a Kennedyesqe Harrison Butler.
I felt the play wasn’t absurd enough. At times events were more silly and Tourette-like than absurd. The play suffers from poor pacing (at times there was nothing happening on stage) and loose direction. Overall, the play needs a sharper, more focused effort to pull off clever absurdity. In the end, the line between silly and absurd became blurred, and I failed to see the point as I left the Red Room, feeling a little "tumic."