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Geoffrey Rush and Susan Sarandon is "Exit the King" at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre
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Geoffrey Rush and Susan Sarandon is "Exit the King" at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre

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Geoffrey Rush and Susan Sarandon

Exit the King

Written By Eugène Ionesco
(Ionesco Bio)
Adapted by Neil Armfield and Geoffrey Rush

Directed by Neil Armfield
With Lauren Ambrose, William Sadler,
Brian Hutchinson, Andrea Martin

At the
Ethel Barrymore Theatre
243 West 47th Street

Scenic and Costume Design: Dale Ferguson
Lighting Design: Damien Cooper
Sound Design: Russell Goldsmith
Composer: John Rodgers
Casting: Daniel Swee
Production Stage Manager: Evan Ensign
Production Management: Aurora Productions
Assoc. Producer: Ronnie Planalp
General Management: STP/Dana Sherman
Press Representative: Boneau/Bryan Brown

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
March 27, 2009

Geoffrey Rush and Susan Sarandon, award-winning film icons, bring a larger than life dimension to the Ethel Barrymore stage, with Mr. Rush as King Berenger and Ms. Sarandon as his first wife, Queen Marguerite, at the time of the King’s illness and impending demise. This mini-patriarchal family and Palace attendants include Andrea Martin as Juliette, the remaining maid in the dissolving Kingdom, Lauren Ambrose as Queen Marie, the King’s current and nubile second wife, Brian Hutchison as The Guard, a comical servant, who announces the arrivals and departures, and William Sadler, as The Doctor, a sly, sadistic, and callow guard of the King’s health. Berenger is not prepared to die, and his second wife is not prepared to be widowed. But, in out-sized stage presence, Ms. Sarandon (Queen Marguerite) seethes, glares, and patiently absorbs the moments that will bring her demonic delight, that is, the King’s final breath as husband of Queen Mary. Ms. Sarandon is the face and posture of a woman scorned, a poisonous snake in the room.

Berenger’s Kingdom, it is announced, is bereft of security, of health, of wealth, of clean air, of resources, and even of living people. The older generation inhabits its swallowed space, and they are dying off. In other words, the Kingdom and King are both rapidly dying, but the action onstage is anything but morose. In fact, to John Rodger’s music, Mr. Rush’s Berenger dances in silent-film pomposity, to show his inherent health and to thwart death at the door. Ms. Sarandon, in pointed, audience asides and knowing smirks, Ms. Martin in kindly, campy humor and antics of her own, and Mr. Hutchison (The Guard) in showy, countdown announcements of Berenger’s time on earth, join forces to enable and summon Berenger’s absolute fate. Only Queen Marie, vulnerable, giving, and ingénue, exudes hope, feelings, despair. The Doctor is a doctor from Hell, one who would gladly speed the inevitable for self-serving purpose.

Stars of film, such as Ms. Sarandon and Mr. Rush, have skills beyond the stage. Their charismatic presence rivets the eye and the imagination, drawing us in, as if we are onstage as well. In fact, in this Ionesco adaptation by Mr. Rush and Mr. Armfield, there is much dialogue back and forth, addressing the audience, and we could all be standing with Berenger and his fading Kingdom, watching his clever, clownish defiance of fate. I could not remove my eyes from the ingenious, Ms. Martin, with her vaudevillian stunts and hammy melodrama. A live trumpeter adds heraldic flourishes, and all the while Ms. Sarandon stands in sleek, slinky silence, rear stage, until her expansive monologue, close to Berenger’s “curtain”. When she does speak, it is with intense, seamless, and fascinating style. She has laid her attitude bare, with taut, self-possessed regality, through almost two Acts, so when she finally speaks at length, we listen. Tension and humor build in this production, merging in Berenger’s expected and exaggerated death.

Geoffrey Rush and Neil Armfield deserve Kudos for bringing this Australian, Company B production of Exit the King to Broadway, so we could personally experience theatre of such breadth and depth. The casting of Ms. Sarandon with Mr. Rush resulted in quintessentially interwoven talent. Ms. Martin, in the key role of Juliette, completed a fine night at the theatre. Kudos to Eugène Ionesco.

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For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at