January 29 — March 14, 1999
Written by: Eugene Ionesco
Translated by: Barbara Wright
Directed by: Frédérique Michel
Production Design by: Charles A. Duncombe, Jr.
Produced by: Steven Pocock
Cast: Strawn Bovee, Jennifer Dion, Scott Donovan, Joel Drazner, Richard Grove, Patricia Raquel Lopez, Anna Pond, Valerie Ramirez, Bo Roberts, Paul Rubenstein
18 February 1999
Review by Anne Louise Bannon
“It’s seldom that I run across something as difficult to describe as Journeys Among the Dead, Eugene Ionesco’s autobiographical last play. The City Garage’s production, directed by Frederique Michel, is compelling, beautifully paced, nicely performed for the most part, and yet… How do you wrap words around what is essentially an old man’s dream journey to find his mother and confront the guilt and anger that has plagued him since childhood? Simple enough to say, but it doesn’t quite convey what seeing this play is like.
Do read the excellent program notes. They provide the factual background and give a little structure to the performance. If you’re a fan of Jungian dream analysis, or even Freudian analysis, go to town.
While this is an ensemble piece, it is held together by the old poet named Jean — essentially Ionesco. Richard Grove gives the old man a tenderness and sense of wonder not easily accomplished, since the emotional throughlines are seldom clear from the text. Grove’s work with the young Jean, Paul Rubenstein, is seamless. The two seem to have a single vision for the character and it works well. But Scott Donovan, as Jean’s father, occasionally falls a little flat. The rest of the ensemble holds up nicely, with some lovely performances by Stawn Bovee as Jean’s mother and Jean’s grandmother, Patricia Raquel Lopez as Jean’s stepmothre, and Valerie Ramirez in her role as Violette.
Charles A. Duncombe Jr has outdone even himself with his lighting and particularly his sound design, pulling together sound effects and music that feed the production as a whole, as opposed to overpowering it, as so often happens. He also did the very simple but effective set.
Probably the highest achievement belongs to Michel. You have to assume that some of the bits and action were directed in, but it is really hard to tell what came from the script’s stage dircetions and what was Michel’s work. Michel is an extremely intellectual director, and her work serves this piece very well. Even better is the way she paces the play: one of the difficulties of Theatre of the Absurd is that it has the capacity to be relentlessly boring. Michel takes time where it’s warranted, but lets things run at a nice clip otherwise.
It’s not the easiest play on the planet to do well. City Garage has done it well.”