King Ubu at the Plagiarists: Theater review
The Plagiarists try to recapture the shocking, anarchic kick of Ubu Roi in a cruder, lewder world.
Tue Sep 3 2013
Photograph: Jasmine Basci
Gregory Peters in King Ubu at the Plagiarists
Alfred Jarry's infamous play Ubu Roi premiered in Paris in 1896, when women still hid their heels and men wore white tie to dinner. The absurd, nihilistic and expletive-filled work shocked audiences and critics with its derision of authority and theatrical conventions. The Plagiarists’ ensemble-created adaptation strives to capture the same rebellious and offensive spirit. It is almost impossible to disgust modern audiences, and King Ubu doesn't manage to do so. However, it does sweep you up in its energetic effort to give all that’s lofty and refined in humanity a big fuck-you.
Finding themselves trapped in a theater, Ubu and his wife grab a copy of Shakespeare and steal the plot of Macbeth, since being king sounds pretty great. If Family Guy put on a play, it would be King Ubu. The production is an hour and a half of cussing indulgence in which curses are strung together like Mad Libs: “I will [verb] your [organ] and [sexual act] your [orifice] with it”. Every character cheats, steals, lies, murders and follows their basest impulses.
For a group of juvenile junkies, they're inexplicably enthralling—a testament to the energy the cast delivers. Matt Castellvi is particularly notable as the affable and alcoholic King Wenceslas. He exudes charisma and carefree attitude as only a man can who's completely given up on life. This energy is further intensified by the excellent set and sound design. The smoke-filled black box immediately resembles a heroin addict’s basement crossed with a children’s playroom, and screaming punk rock rips across the stage whenever our heroes lose themselves in gleeful murder.
The all-out performances and visual gags help offset the repetitive dialogue and action. In such a cartoonish play, there’s not much room for variety. It’s one-note, if a very explosive one. However, the pace of the show doesn't always work in the production’s favor. Many of the puns and scathingly ironic jokes are lost between all the screamed obscenities. The clever way it disassembles the dramatic form is steamrolled by the unrelenting tempo. The original Ubu Roi had an uncanny intellect underneath the crudity. King Ubu has it in writing, but not in production.
Nevertheless, the basic thrust of the play remains strong. King Ubu is about the screaming two-year-old that emerges in humanity where our selfish needs meet basic logic. Ubu wants money as king, but then he has to spend money to make the people like him to give him money, but he wants to keep his money, and, and—“It's all bullshit!” Yes. Yes it is. We’ve all been there. I’d take care not to read too much into this play, but it's a cathartic experience to spend an evening shitting on art, decency, and hope.