JACK, OR THE SUBMISSION, Greasy Joan & Company, at the Organic Theater Company Greenhouse, South Hall. Have you noticed that the more absurd and empty and crazy American life becomes, the more devoted the theater is to realism? It's as if good old realistic drama--with its believable dialogue, authentic costumes, and painstakingly accurate sets complete with working stoves and faucets--somehow persuades audiences that, yes, the old certainties still exist. The world isn't changing, the center still holds, families are nice places, Western civilization is on top.
Which also explains why an absurdist like Eugene Ionesco has fallen so far out of favor. No other playwright works as hard at showing how utterly insane the world is--and how impossible it is to communicate this insanity rationally. In Jack, or the Submission, as in his The Bald Soprano, Ionesco gives us a normal family (in which everyone is named Jack) and then shows how completely mad they are. All their talk is mere chatter: When the oldest son receives a long lecture at the beginning of the play, it turns out to be about his reluctance to declare his love for hash brown potatoes. And when it comes time for him to marry, the family sniffs the prospective fiancee like a pack of dogs greeting a newcomer.
Ionesco saves his most barbed satire for the play's glorious last quarter, when Jack's fiancee Roberta II announces her plan to simplify language by substituting the word "cat" for every word. Thus a sentence like "I'm terribly sleepy, let's go to sleep" becomes "Cat, cat, cat, cat."
"It's easy to talk now," Jack enthuses. "In fact, it's scarcely worth the bother." Once again language fails, rationality takes an incomplete, and you can hear Ionesco chuckling. --Jack Helbig
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Sheri Berliner.