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The Bald Soprano

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THE BALD SOPRANO, Stage Actors Ensemble, at the Performance Loft, Second Unitarian Church of Chicago. Call this one "The Blind Soprano." The intriguing concept behind James Clark's revival of Eugene Ionesco's 1948 absurdist masterpiece is that the actors perform with their eyes sealed shut with smooth putty; they must rely on hearing, touch, and training to light, smoke, and exchange cigarettes, pour sherry from decanters, even tango.

The characters' inability to connect could not be better illustrated than by the Stage Actors Ensemble's lack of eye contact. Their willful blindness adds an irresistible dimension of futility to Ionesco's "antiplay," a spoof of salon comedies that delightedly exposes a silly soiree. Amid a host of crackbrained coincidences and contradictions, two brittle British couples indulge in selective amnesia and talk so small it's almost invisible, including empty phrases pilfered from foreign phrase books. Adding to the inanity is a French maid who has an affair with a fire chief who happens to drop by in search of a blaze.

Besides avoiding collisions with props and audience, Clark's second-sighted septet effectively delivers the melodramatic poses and stilted boredom of Ionesco's exquisitely inessential bourgeois. (Still, a brisker pace would eliminate any chance that the depiction of tedium will come across as the real thing.) Praise to the cast--too tightly knit for anyone to be singled out--who run the risks that keep non-Equity theater a thrilling proposition.

---Lawrence Bommer

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