Ubu Roi Performance Criticism
Alfred Jarry’s infamous play, Ubu Roi has been pegged as one of the first works of the Theatre of the Absurd. The play premiered in 1896 and immediately garnered a great deal of controversy. The original showing led to riots, people hated the play and could not understand it. From the opening word of “Merde!” to the very end, the play is filled with vulgarity and extremely unorthodox dialogue. The play has been described as a ‘comic nightmare’ by English translator David Copelin. That is an accurate description. Ubu Roi is the kind of play that is difficult to classify or put into any one genre. The Universty’s production of this play did a nice job of supporting the classification of Ubu as a ‘comic nightmare’ rather than a tragicomedy.
The way in which I would describe a ‘comic nightmare’ would be a play that makes you laugh at one moment and then makes you feel very uncomfortable in the next moment. Ubu Roi has its moments of humor. And it most definitely has its uncomfortable moments. I felt uncomfortable just reading the script. Then when I saw the play, it took it to another level. The dark, odd scenery, the strange characters, the awkward movements on stage, it was a strange experience to say the least.
The campus production of Ubu captured the essence of Ubu’s bizarreness that would probably make Alfred Jarry proud. The strange costumes, the toilet-like setting, it made the play that much more odd. Characters moved around the stage in a puppet like fashion. I would imagine that doing a play like Ubu Roi would be extraordinarily difficult just out of the sheer strangeness of the whole play. Considering the fact that most actors were probably a little bit out of their element, I would have to say they did a solid job. A person would probably be hard pressed to find another play or production similar to SIUE’s rendition. It was unique and sadistic, two words that accurately describe everything that is Ubu Roi.
When examining and comparing different plays of the tragicomedy genre, a person can definitely find similarities between two or more plays. If you were to tell someone to compare elements of Ubu Roi and say, Othello that person would struggle. Ubu Roi does contain elements of tragedy and comedy but they are not easily distinguishable. They are not obvious to the viewer. The comedy can be missed or overshadowed by the bizarreness.
As I witnessed the play, I missed some of the intended comedy. I was not sure whether to laugh or not at some points. The play makes you think and question what you’re laughing at and whether or not you should be laughing at all. As a person witnesses the play they are working in their minds to find the point in it all. A viewer is constantly attempting to find an underlying theme in it all. Ubu, the main character was meant to portray an evil member of middle class society and attempted to show the irrationality of the world we live in. Ubu Roi offers a glimpse into the lust, greed and ugliness of society. The way in which these ideals are displayed is completely unorthodox and hard to understand but the underlying theme remains throughout. The production captured the crucial strange essence of the play without doing away with the main point behind the play.
Ubu Roi cannot be categorized. It is too bizarre. Too call it a tragicomedy would be off base. It was one of the plays that helped create the Theatre of the Absurd. It showed people that not every play has to be similar or confined within the unwritten code or rules of play writing. Certainly the play was a shock and people immediately disliked it but the work endures to this day. Plays like Ubu Roi gave playwrights more flexibility when crafting different works. It spawned all types of different plays that were fresh, strange and controversial.
David Copelin described Ubu Roi pretty accurately when he called it a ‘comedic nightmare’. Ubu Roi is truly a nightmare. All the nightmarish elements of society are contained within the play. But these nightmarish elements are also looked upon in a comedic light as well, with a constant cynical viewpoint of the wrongs of society and its inhabitants. All in all, the campus production did a nice job using the shock factor without ignoring the central theme of the entire play. It truly captured all of the nightmarish elements, including the dark lighting, dirty, wet stage scenery, the puppet-like, perverse characters, it was all there. Our campus production was true to the script and had to be what Alfred Jarry envisioned it looking like on stage when he crafted Ubu Roi one hundred and fifteen years ago.