Volume 78 - Number 47 / April 29 - May 5 , 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933


Theater

EXIT THE KING
Written by Eugene Ionesco
Adapted by Neil Armfield and Geoffrey Rush
Directed by Neil Armfield
Through June 14
At the Ethel Barrymore Theatre
243 West 47th Street
(212) 239-6200 or Telecharge.com

Photo by Joan Marcus

Andrea Martin as the stoical royal chambermaid Juliette

Andrea Martin wrings laughs from royal role

Courting a second Tony with a hop, skip and jump

By Jerry Tallmer

Funny, what a little hop, skip, and jump can do. It might even win her a second Tony Award to put alongside the one she captured in 1992 for her performance as a cynical gag writer in the Broadway musical of “My Favorite Year.”

“Yes, I did devise it” — that hop, skip, and jump — Andrea Martin confesses, “but it doesn’t seem like such a big thing to me. It just seemed natural to the character, who has to do so much.”

     So much hard labor, she means. Here’s a bit of it, in the chirpily delivered words (without music) of Juliette, the stoical all-purpose royal chambermaid played by Andrea Martin in Eugene  Ionesco’s “Exit the King” at the  Ethyl Barrymore:

In winter when I get up, it’s still dark, and I’m frozen…Even in summer when I get up, the sun is barely risen…I wash all the household linen in the laundry tubs. My hands hurt, the skin is all cracked…I empty the chamber pots. I make the beds … I polish the floors. I sweep and sweep and sweep. There’s no end to it…And since we don’t have gardeners any more, I hoe and I dig. And I sow…And then — then I do yesterday’s washing up. Plates covered in grease and fat. And then I have to cook … After that I still have to serve at the table …

“Exit the King” is a comedy, of a sort, but it isn’t a barrel of laughs. It is, in fact, absurdist playwright Ionesco’s good hard look at death — the unwilling death, in this case, of a king (Geoffrey Rush) whose once vast empire has totally fallen apart, gone to seed, militarily, economically, every which way.

Juliette the chambermaid has to cope not only with the cantankerous self-deluding king but also with the king’s two queens (Susan Sarandon, Lauren Ambrose), a quack royal doctor (William Sadler), and a simple-minded stentorian armored guard (Brian Hutchison).

No, not only had Andrea Martin never seen this play before but, she confesses, “I’d never seen any Ionesco before.” (Short pause.) “He’s mostly explored in the world of academia, isn’t he?”

She got the part “the way the majority of actors get jobs — just a pure audition” before director Neil Armfield and casting director Daniel Swee, “And then I heard nothing for seven months.” And then the phone rang.

At first bite, “Exit the King” is “not easy at all to read, but once you’re in it, it’s like Shakespeare, the words support it, they just flow off your tongue. The original’s written in French [though Ionesco’s blood was Romanian]. I’m fluent enough in French,” she says, “to understand it.”

She’s fluent enough in French because her quadruple college education (Stevens, Emerson, the Sorbonne, and Emerson again) put her in Paris in the turbulent years of 1968-69 — assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy in America, student revolt and workers’ strikes in France and elsewhere.

“And there I am, in Paris, studying at the Jacques Lecoq School of Mime — the same place Geoffrey Rush studied mime.” Oscar-winner Geoffrey Rush is from Australia — as is this production of “Exit the King,” in an adaptation by him and director Arnfield. Oscar-winner Susan Sarandon was born and bred in this city. Andrea Martin is a product of — guess where — Portland, Maine.

The name and work of Eugene Ionesco was, as it happens, introduced to the United States of America in 1954, at the tiny Tempo Playhouse on St. Mark’s Place, by a young woman from Brooklyn named Julie Bovasso when Andrea was still a little kid up in Portland, Maine. Julie, in her early 20s, had walked over the bridge from Brooklyn to build that playhouse with her own hands, and there produce — and star in — the dramas not only of Ionesco but Jean Genet and Michel de Ghelderode and others – all unknown or but barely known until then in America.

The Andrea Martin of today had never heard of any of this either, and was eager to learn more. She was going to read up on Julie Bovasso, she said. Then, parenthetically: “One of the best gifts of doing this play is seeing so many young people seeing Ionesco for the first time.”

The part of Juliette in “Exit the King” is now being played by … Andrea Papazian.

Well, it might have been, if Andrea’s grandfather, who’d reached America during the Armenian Holocaust of 1919, hadn’t changed his name from John Papazian to John Martin when he saw the name “MARTIN” splashed on the side of some truck.

“My mother’s name was Sybil Marougian, so I’m 100 percent full-blooded Armenian on both sides,” says the actress.

She had bee-lined it to New York as soon as finally finishing at Emerson College, in Boston — “theater became everything to me” — and walked into a  job with a touring company of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.” That gave her Equity card and nailed her into “the surreal life of theater.”  Too late to get out now. She lives alone on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Her two grown sons — Jack, 27, and Joe, 26 — are both involved in music. Their father, from whom she is divorced, is film director Robert Dolman.

You know, the hop-skip Juliette of “Exit the King” is told, you could really write a book. Call it: How to Steal a Show.

“Oh my goodness,” said the royal chambermaid.

See? Even without trying, she’s doing it. 

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