For weeks, UR students have been hearing about the latest Todd Theater production, “Ubu Roi,” written by French playwright Alfred Jarry, and its absurdist tendencies. It promised to be a night of laughs and sheer entertainment. Unfortunately, it turned out to be less funny than expected, bordering on boring more often than not.
“Ubu Roi” is the story of Poppa Turd and Momma Turd, played by seniors Lydia Jimenez and Stella Kammel, respectively, and their desire to take over Poland. There are plenty of plot twists, including their plans to dethrone the current leader, their escape to Russia and their overwhelming contempt for each other. There are a few moments that are blatantly funny — however, they are few and far between. For the most part, there are a lot of jokes about shit, which is in fact the translation of the play’s title. The unfortunate aspect of this show is that it has everything going for it — the costumes are fantastic, the set is incredible and the actors are, for the most part, sublime. The one thing that is so inherently bad that it ruined everything else is the play itself.
The plot is definitely absurd, but that alone is not enough to make this comedy funny. The main character, Poppa Turd, is clearly not meant to be a hero, with his cowering and bemoaning, but he is also neither likeable nor interesting enough to be the play’s anti-hero. However, his continual jokes about defecation are not funny enough to make him entertaining to watch. It may be one of the rare times that there is a desire for the lead to be killed off, just to make the play better.
Jimenez does the best she can with her character. However, even the best acting could not salvage the droll lines and over-the-top nature of Poppa Turd. Momma Turd has the same issues. Kammel’s voice and mannerisms screams “shrew” in the best way possible. However, she quickly turns from funny to flat, simply due to the one-dimensionality of her character. It’s unfortunate to watch, but there is not much that can be done to save Momma Turd.
The show definitely has a few great moments, though. Senior Kelsey Burritt shines as Queen Rosamunde, a Marie Antoinette-type whose interactions with her son, Prince Buggerlaus, played by junior Brian Giacalone, inspire more than a few chuckles. Even her death scene is outstanding, creating a surprisingly sentimental ending to Queen Rosamunde’s character (with a few jokes thrown in at the end).
Another entertaining character is the soon-to-be-usurped King Wenceslaus, played by sophomore Devin Goodman. Wenceslaus is perpetually drunk and yet still likeable. Goodman hits the notes of his character just right, being outrageous and absurd without ever going too far. It’s unfortunate that he too dies fairly early in the show. It seems that Jarry has a vendetta against his better characters.
With the few decent characters gone, however, the rest of the show goes to, well, shit. There is an incredible number of jokes about defecation and only very, very few are actually funny. That’s not to say there is never a funny moment to enjoy — Poppa Turd’s supporters chanting “Long live the shits. May he shit forevermore!” is definitely so absurd that it reads as comical. Unfortunately, in general this is not the case, and the longer the show goes on the less funny these “shit jokes” become.
The issues with this play all rest on the play itself. The makeup and costumes, stark white faces with red and black costumes and strange headpieces, are a delight. They are fascinating to look at, and quite frankly are a large part of creating the surrealist tone of the show. The set is stunning, with a large, black multi-faced set piece playing every role from a murder machine to a mountain. The actors are all completely committed, and quite talented too, but are unable to compensate for bad writing. Hopefully in the future Todd Theater will choose plays that will better present the many talented students involved in the production.
Howard is a member of the class of 2013.