The first weekend of shows has wrapped for “Exit the King”, an absurdist play by Eugene Ionesco exploring themes of mortality, legacy, and gratitude. The play follows King Berenger (Andrew Solari), a 400-year-old ruler of a once great kingdom, who is now faced with his inevitable death, orchestrated by his first wife, Queen Marguerite (Madeleine Shallan).
“Exit the King” tackles these themes using theater of the absurd, a style of theater that utilizes stylized acting and writing to make the existential more understandable. The audience is greeted by the ensemble cast of six actors, sitting quietly on the stage floor, where they stay for the entire production. With this approach, audience members are met with a play that makes elaborate fourth wall-breaking fart jokes but still inundates the audience with the anxieties that come when mere minutes away from death. This duality creates such a rewarding, thoughtful, and thought-provoking experience not only for the audience but for the cast as well.
“I was drawn to the play because of how poignant it still is in this day and age,” said Nick Trafton, a sophomore theater arts major who plays the Doctor, an aid to Queen Marguerite’s plot to kill the King. “The show has been a beautiful thing and has been immensely rewarding. The cast and director… are all immensely talented and friendly.”
Throughout the phases of rehearsal and now performance, the cast members of the show have all taken away different things through their work these past months. Trafton remarks that the show has “shown him what caliber of work I am capable of,” emphasizing how much the script and the show’s director, Neno Pervan, have helped him grow. Shallan, a junior theater arts major, said that her character Marguerite, “taught me how to stand up for myself independently.”
“The show really pushed me outside of my comfort zone and helped me grow,” Shallan said.
“It was daunting being able to make big choices, but it was also so freeing,” said Iago Lashua, a sophomore theater arts major. “I was trying new stuff every night (in rehearsal)… and pushing it all to the extreme.”
As the first weekend of shows finishes, it signals “the beginning of the end,” as Lashua said. “It’s a huge bummer to have the show almost be done… I love working on the show with this cast and crew.” Other cast members echoed this sentiment, with a mutual love and respect found amongst all of the members of the show. “This show has been really special, it has been one of the best shows I’ve been in so far, and one of the best experiences,” said Trafton.
Finishing a show that includes such a tightly knit cast can be challenging. Being in a theatrical show is a different group dynamic than a sports team or club; you’re spending hours every night digging into emotional choices with others and rehearsing the exact same work consistently. You’re allowed to hang out with your best friends every day, while doing what you love to do; how could it not be hard to see that go?
“I think the people are what I’ll miss the most; being in a cast with people is such a specific bond, and you can’t find that bond anywhere else,” said Trafton.
“Exit the King” is a comical, rousing play that makes audience members belly-laugh right before confronting the audience with a heartfelt monologue about slipping into death, and preparing for the end. The show is unique in its tone and concept, and it’s the juxtaposition between the brash comedic moments and the somber dramatic moments that allow for “Exit the King” to create an absurd commentary on mortality, successfully.