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The Shepherd’s Chameleon, CLF Art Cafe

Eugene Ionesco
Directed by Moji Kareem

Pros: Both well-designed and well-acted, with an intriguing and thought provoking concept.

Cons: Lofty subject matter and repetition made it a bit pretentious and at times hard to swallow.

Our Verdict: Well-conceived and produced. Delightfully absurd at times, but perhaps an overly intellectual examination of theatre.

Courtesy of Rob Sloetry Covell

Eugene Ionesco is the king of avant-garde and absurdist theatre. With this production, Utopia Theatre tackles his apparently quite personal struggle with the place of criticism and academia in the creation and reception of theatrical works. If it sounds a bit complex and contradictory, don’t worry – it is. Despite the furrowed brow you’ll certainly be sporting throughout as you try to work your way through the labyrinth of contradiction and arguments, the piece is well-put together and fun to dissect as you watch. The company has taken pains to approach the hour-long piece with creativity. However, a play that sets out to critique criticism and comment on the role of theatre itself in a scientific world is circular in and of itself. (Don’t even get me started on the irony of critiquing a play that criticizes criticism!)

The play’s hero is Eugene Ionesco himself, as he struggles to pen a new play. Having not yet begun, he is interrupted by an academic friend, Dr. Bartholomew. As the play progresses, Dr. Bartholomew’s character splits into three, each arguing different points on what theatre is and impressing upon Ionesco a web of contradictory theories and advice.  The script is in equal parts fascinating and frustrating, and can be hard to follow, although Moji Kareem’s production offers excellent design and physicality to balance out the lofty subject matter. The set is simple but relevant – littered with papers and books, the audience is barraged with printed words, which compliments the avalanche of spoken language. Subtle lighting sets an eerie and ethereal mood.

The cast does very well, particularly the three Bartholomews who are all portrayed by women. There is an interesting dynamic between the three as they argue over the proper role and production of theatricality whilst trying to influence Ionesco. All three women put on a real show; singing, dancing and giving a lively energy to their battle of wits.

The primary issue with the piece is that the subject matter itself reads like a theory lesson. Luckily it wasn’t longer than an hour or it certainly would have resulted in a serious headache. While it is admittedly more interesting to see the contradictions of these theories played out physically than to labour over then in a book, the fast-paced nature makes it quite difficult to grasp all the concepts. This format also means the play is primarily concerned with presenting different arguments, and so there isn’t much of a plot arc, which keeps the audience at a distance and makes it difficult to get really involved in the action. It’s definitely not a lazy Sunday afternoon show, but rather it’s an intellectual struggle, and one without much reward. After the lengthy arguments from the Bartholomews – however dynamic – Ionesco swoops in to tell us the show is meant to prove the absurdity of trying to scientifically classify art and impose descriptive language on the creative process, only to realize his final argument has done just that. It’s a vicious cycle to be sure – and while interesting, it’s not particularly satisfying. By the end it feels a bit like the wool’s been pulled over your eyes.

The production has many virtues, and can certainly be an interesting experience, but may not be for the faint of heart – or brain. It’s ideological and dense, but creative and fascinating in its own right. A conundrum in every sense!

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

The Shepherd’s Chameleon has now completed its run at the CLF Art Café
For further information about upcoming Utopia Theatre productions visit: https://www.facebook.com/utopiatheatrecompany

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