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The Ionesco Festival is now into its third absurd month, continuing to present all of Eugene Ionesco's works at various downtown venues with the involvement of 17 different theater companies. Frenzy for Two, or More, Spring Theatreworks, Inc.'s contribution to the celebration, is playing at the Present Company Theatorium through November 17.

Frenzy for Two, or More concerns three couples who are so busy bickering and spouting vitriol that they don't notice the world is being destroyed around them. They begin by debating whether or not a tortoise and a snail are the same animal, eventually turning to heated discussions about the most effective way to barricade the door. But most of the time, the women just berate the men, who seem cowed or defensive. The six actors--Alison Saltz, Jordan Hoch, Erin Treadway, Michael Weitz, Doug Simpson, and Susan Biesinger--do their best with limited characters and usually succeed in yelling and complaining without becoming annoying. Saltz and Hoch are especially impressive as they display flashes of tenderness in the context of their hopeless relationship.

This portrait of couples obsessing over trifles in the midst of a raging war merits some chuckles; the writing is clever enough that I found myself wondering whether a tortoise and a snail really are the same animal, but the overall conceit of the play rapidly grows stale. Director Jeffrey Horne helps matters a great deal with some smart choices. He moves his actors around each other's lives smoothly while making excellent use of the performance space, gradually turning a small bedroom apartment into a war zone. In this way, the play seems to improve as it progresses; the verbal turmoil is augmented by the obliteration of the couples' homes as victorious soldiers march through the streets and debris and toys fall from the sky.

The point of Frenzy, which becomes clear within the first 10 minutes, is that people are often so concerned with the trivial details of life that they miss the big picture. Of course, recent events have changed the way we in this country perceive everything, and one would hope that such a play would therefore be all the more relevant. Instead, it seems less relevant than it might have seemed before the terrorist attacks of September 11. On that unforgettable morning, America learned the lesson that Frenzy for Two, or More is designed to instruct--i.e., we need to get our priorities straight. To have the same point made on stage, and in such an absurdist manner, almost seems insulting at the moment. Thanks for the tip, Eugene, but we get it now.

This is not to say that it's unimportant to continue the lessons; already, many of us have returned to fretting over the ridiculous while things of great consequence go on around us. Still, Frenzy for Two, or More doesn't have much resonance; it's one of Ionesco's more obscure plays, and there's a reason for that. Horne seems to stick pretty close to the non-specific text--but he does have the winners of the battle hum "God Bless America" as they march, and the play comes to an end as a string of mutilated Barbie dolls (presumably representing the losers) are hung over the stage. The point of this commentary is unclear.

In sum, Frenzy is probably worth your while if you are a true Ionesco buff and/or a fan of political theater. An interesting aspect of the Festival is the Shorts Program, which presents a different, 10-minute Ionesco piece before each "feature" show begins. On the night I attended, a peculiar little nugget called "The Niece-Wife" was on view. Visit the webside for more information.


[Click on the following link to read Ben Winters' feature Eye on Ionesco.]

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