Sunday, May 19, 2013

IONESCOPADE: On the Edge of Madness with Bill Castellino

Joey D'Auria and Alan Abelew in Ionescopade.
2013 Photos by Ron Sossi

Bill Castellino
returns to the Odyssey Theatre this month to direct and choreograph Ionescopade, based on the work of playwright Eugène Ionesco (Rhinoceros, The Bald Soprano, Exit the King); a project that reunites him with his old pal, musical director Gerald Sternbach. The pair originally collaborated on the west coast premiere of Ionescopade in 1981[pictured below]. That production was so successful that it ran for almost ten months, receiving both LA Weekly and Drama-Logue awards.

Then in 1995 Castellino directed Lilianne Montevecchi and Ron Holgate in a revival at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C., and last year he directed the Off-Broadway Alliance award-nominated York Theatre production, for which he also received a Lucille Lortel nomination for Best Choreographer. On May 31st, the Odyssey will open a revitalized, updated version of the show and the circle will be complete.

Bill describes the show as a zany musical vaudeville featuring mime, farce and parody – all balanced on the edge of madness, taken from the plays, playlets and poetry of ‘Theatre of the Absurd.’ I asked him what it was like to revisit a production like this over a period of years and how his thoughts have changed about it in that time. 

“Writing in the shadow of the great war, the holocaust, the Nazi occupation of Paris and the atom bomb, Ionesco channeled his personal reactions (which may have been fear, anger, insecurity, terror) through language, humor, and observation. He suggests that humanity when faced with the direst of circumstance, will not only survive but perhaps even thrive, learn, and laugh. Ionescopade gives us a sampler of his insights. Here we are in a ‘post 9-11 world’ that views war, terror, paranoia, and fear differently than a ‘post WW2 world’ did - and then again those dark thoughts and upsetting conditions are somehow the same. Each time I revisit the show, I find new dimensions that unite humanity through time and still allow us our own moment on this planet.”

He adds that, over the years, Mildred Kayden (composer, lyricist & co-conceiver) continued to tweak the work. “Ionescopade is made of short plays, playlets, journal entries, and songs inspired by Ionesco’s characters. When reviving the piece, Kayden (sometimes with me) changed the order, made cuts, and substituted plays, keeping the overall concept of an Ionesco ‘sampler presented in vaudeville format’ intact. So, not only is the show a great piece of art that remains relevant and insightful, as the play-maker continued to morph it - it could even more deftly reflect the current world conditions.”  

So what is the best way to view a work like this and make sense out of its many seemingly nonsensical pieces? For Bill, “the best way to experience this wacky, odd, and singular theatre event is like walking through a gallery.... you look at one of the works, experience it, allow it to touch you - then move on to the next and then the next. I think allowing each episode to make an impression is more valuable than trying to understand each one in the moment. Laugh and get provoked in the theatre; think about it and figure it out later.

Joey D'Auria, Kelly Lester and Alan Abelew (2013)

Most importantly, Ionescopade is funny - sometimes just plain silly (like life can be), and sometimes hilarious, as we look at our own behaviors when in love, in conversation, or in shock. The show never fails to provoke thought, offer insight, and make us laugh at ourselves. It stitches together the hijinx of modern clowns, the beauty of lofty language, and the innocence of human nature, with a keen observation of our challenges, triumphs, and shortcomings.

The internet speed at which we live redefines ‘non-sequitor.’ Our cultural obsession with celebrity and all the details of stars’ lives redefines ‘absurd.’ Ionesco insists that the best way to cope is through humor – isn’t that a good idea?”

Ionescopade runs May 31 – August 11, 2013 at the Odyssey Theatre located at 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West Los Angeles, 90025. For reservations and ticket information, call (310) 477-2055 or go to

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