On Stage

Ubu Roi

A riotous take on President’s Day

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

If you’re keen to watch a power-hungry buffoon of a ruler lay waste to his newly-conquered kingdom thanks to a caustic combination of greed and self-indulgence, your first instinct might be to turn on the news and settle in for the long haul.

A second, more interesting option involves procuring a seat to iDiOM Theater’s production of Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi, which not-so-coincidentally begins a three-week run on President’s Day (Mon., Feb. 20) at the Sylvia Center for the Arts.

The play follows the aforementioned political plot line to the letter—except it takes place in Poland, parodies elements from various Shakespearean classics such as Macbeth and Hamlet and—like many of Jarry’s subsequent plays—skewers everything from royalty to religion. When it debuted in Paris on Dec. 10, 1896, a riot ensued. (In that case, opening day was also closing day.)

Director Glenn Hergenhahn-Zhao says Ubu Roi wasn’t originally on iDiOM’s season lineup. But after they were contacted by a group called the Bad Hombres and Nasty Women’s Theater Resistance Movement—who were organizing readings of the play around the country on what they were calling Not-My-President’s Day—they decided to put it on the roster. He spent a month on a new translation, and has since rounded up a stellar cast.

“Since the mid-20th century, there has been a tradition of performing it when tyrant-buffoons come to power,” Hergenhahn-Zhao says. “There were productions protesting George W Bush. Unfortunately, we don’t seem to ever run out of tyrant-buffoons, so Ubu will live on, I’m sure.

“Political commentary and satire has been an important part of theater history, and has been a part of iDiOM from year one, when we put up Operation Infinite Christmas to satirize the buildup to war. We aren’t under any delusion that putting up plays is a substitute for direct political engagement, but the importance of community getting together to laugh in the face of horror, being present with compassionate people, and making poop jokes in the face of fascism cannot be underestimated.”

So far, Hergenhahn-Zhao knows of about six productions and many more readings of Ubu Roi that will be happening around the globe on Feb. 20. Some are making their productions more Trump-centric and taking a few liberties with the text.

“One production in England is called King Turd,” he says. “A production in Vermont is called Trumpuboo Rex.  Ours sticks a little more to the original, and lets people find what Trump they may.”

And, with Ubu Roi playing for more than one night, Hergenhahn-Zhao allows he doesn’t anticipate any riots at the Sylvia Center Studio Theater.

“People are less inclined to riot at theater today, sadly,” he says. “They are also not as offended at vulgarity and poop jokes, thankfully. There is good reason to believe that the young playwright and his cohorts instigated the riots in 1896 as part of the show and then they got out of hand, so if you see anyone start to throw things at the actors, it probably will be me.”

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