Usually you know who is playing the starring role in whatever play you are seeing.
Oh, yes, that’s whoever.
Of course, that’s another whoever.
But when you go to see Ubu the Sh*t (the elision is theirs, not ours), even with a program it is impossible to keep track of the players, because they are wearing masks and disguising costumes. Nine different people play the lead roles of Pa and Ma Ubu at various times.
The production, presented by the California State University Long Beach’s Theatre Department at the Studio Theatre on campus, is one play where individual performances are, intentionally, not important. The hilarious and scabrous action takes place with so many people running on and off stage that all you can do is sit back and enjoy the spectacle.
It is dapted and directed by Jeremy Aluma in collaboration with Four Clowns, of which Aluma is artistic director. The 1896 absurdist play by Alfred Jarry, which prefigured many 20th century plays (and which Aluma has adapted and directed before) is given a new twist this time around, a twist called, Twitter.
As part of the action, audience members are asked to fill in three Mad-Libs before the performance, and tweet their responses to a hashtag. The players agree on which three to use and include those as part of the performance.
Ubu the Sh*t originally was produced, for just one night, in Paris and caused a riot. (Parisians were serious theater-goers.) It is based, loosely, on a play created by Jarry and friends to satirize a hated physic professor. Ubu, the title character, is ugly and vulgar and a lot more words. Aluma has created an Ubu who is fat and scabrous, with his genitals exposed and his emotions on the same level. Ubu’s story uses a lot of Shakespeare, or at least can be compared to him, but Ubu himself is just disgusting and very funny as a result.
All nine Ubu’s use the Studio Theatre’s theater-in-the round to full effect: there is just a tangle of metal in the middle of the stage and the action comes at you from all sides, down the aisles and with so much energy it is hard to know what is happening next, and absolutely impossible to tell the actors apart.. Since this is a performance featuring clown techniques and a great deal of audience participation, the story is different, — hilariously different.
The tweeting which is a part of the evening brings evening more audience involvement, since not only are audience’s tweets used in the play but audience members whose suggestions have been accepted are singled out for attention. Sometimes that attention is a little embarrassing, if you are involved, but it is always funny if you aren’t the focus of attention.
Ubu does have a plot, a combination of the story used in Macbeth and many other classic works, but really Ubu is about Jarry’s view of life: he sees everyone as being a product of their inner emotions: sex and excretion and eating are all that matter. Pa Ubu and Ma Ubu (played by Rob Bergman, Tyler Bremer, Laurel Buck, Montana Bull, Jerry Campisi, Jamarr Love, Ammy Ontiveros, Quin Sheridan and Siri Tveter at various times) are poster children for violence, for sex and for everything indecent. The play opens with an obscene chorus set to music from Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana” and closes the same way, and that sets the stage for the rest of the evening. Pa Ubu finally gets stabbed (in his genitals) but all nine personifications of him have deserved such a fate.
Four Clowns knows how to make these characters distinctive and lively. The audience has a great time as they are brought into the play again and again, sometimes a little against their wills. It’s a lively and entertaining evening, definitely not for children (there is a lot of obscenity, mostly gleefully and gratuitous) but Ubu is no longer likely to precipitate a riot (even in Long Beach.)
- John Farrell