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 doesnt 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. Heres 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 Ionescos Exit the King at the Ethyl Barrymore:
In winter when I get up, its still dark, and Im 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. Theres no end to it
And since we dont have gardeners any more, I hoe and I dig. And I sow
And then then I do yesterdays 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 isnt a barrel of laughs. It is, in fact, absurdist playwright Ionescos 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 kings 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, Id never seen any Ionesco before. (Short pause.) Hes mostly explored in the world of academia, isnt 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 youre in it, its like Shakespeare, the words support it, they just flow off your tongue. The originals written in French [though Ionescos blood was Romanian]. Im fluent enough in French, she says, to understand it.
Shes 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. Marks 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
Well, it might have been, if Andreas grandfather, whod reached America during the Armenian Holocaust of 1919, hadnt changed his name from John Papazian to John Martin when he saw the name MARTIN splashed on the side of some truck.
My mothers name was Sybil Marougian, so Im 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 Youre 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, shes doing it.