The Knox College Theatre Department’s spring mainstage production of “Exit the King,” the 1962 absurdist play by French playwright Eugene Lonesco, directed by Professor of Theatre Neil Blackadder, is about the death of a king. The audience is told within the first ten minutes of the play that 400-year-old King Berenger (senior Noel Sherrard) will die. The next 85 minutes are a humorous buildup to King Berenger’s inevitable death.
“It’s about a king who’s told at the beginning that he is going to die at the end. One interesting thing is that it’s not really about the ending,” Blackadder said, speaking about the main conceit of the play.
Blackadder’s initial interest in the play was sparked by the way it fits into Lonesco’s greater corpus of work and the theatre of the absurd.
“Part of what interests me is how this is partly in theatre of the absurd, but partly isn’t. Absurdist theatre started with Lonesco and Beckett … and plays that don’t really have a plot, like ‘Waiting for Godot,’” Blackadder said.
When Lonesco wrote “Exit the King,” he had begun moving into a new theatrical stage.
“By the time Lonesco wrote this play, he had established himself and had won international awards …. He was no longer able to rebel against theatre because he had become the theatre,” Blackadder said, explaining that “Exit the King” is in many ways a more classical play than Lonesco’s prior works. On the one hand the play is linear (unlike some earlier works of Lonesco), but it is also “very much not realism,” according to Blackadder.
“I wanted to direct something that would require us to create a world rather than just replicate a world,” Blackadder said.
“Exit the King” was chosen by Blackadder in part to complement the other mainstage plays from this year by providing a new style of theatre.
“Here, this world is whatever we want to make it,” Blackadder said, adding that he has encouraged his actors to really experiment with their roles and push the boundaries of the characters.
The play has a small cast of six characters: a king, two queens (a young and old, representing life and death to a certain extent), a doctor who is also an executioner and two guards.
“I didn’t go into it knowing how I wanted it to look and feel in the end,” Blackadder said of the experimental process used to develop the play. “They are not psychologically coherent characters. I want the audience to continually get jarred out of feeling that they know these people.”
Ultimately, “the whole play is one really complex image which is dying and death. How do we approach concepts of our own death,” Blackadder said.
Speaking about the overarching theme of the play and how it works for the audience, Blackadder added that, “The idea of a comedy about dying seems pretty strange on the face of it …. “Exit the King”] is an entertaining but thought provoking spectacle.”
“Exit the King” will show in Harbach Theatre
May 11-14 at 7:30 p.m.