Ubu Ubu Ubu

Who's Your Dada?

History tells us that at the Paris premiere of Alfred Jarry's notorious Ubu Roi in 1896, the first line prompted a 15-minute riotous outburst from the crowd and a fight in the orchestra pit. When our own Rude Mechanicals presented the work at the now-defunct Electric Lounge a century later, audience members were provided with croissants and encouraged to hurl them at the actors (who frequently hurled them back). Given the mayhem that typically accompanies an appearance by Jarry's loathsome lout, one might suspect that a new show incorporating all three of the writer's Ubu plays would have inspired a rumpus that reduced the Blue Theater to rubble. But the matinee this past Sunday saw no fisticuffs or airborne baked goods or even exclamations of shock. Mostly it saw laughter and appreciative applause and proud smiles on the faces of the parents in the house.

Hold on, you say … parents?

Yes, parents. For the actors breathing life into this edition of the savage satire were teens, members of the Zachary Scott Theatre Center Junior Company, a troupe of home-schooled students who take classes at Zach's Performing Arts School. Some might suppose the material, what with its amoral ass of a protagonist (think Macbeth by way of Basil Fawlty), dark critique of society, and anarchic absurdist humor, not to mention the gushing flood of vulgarities throughout, would be a tad tough for a younger cast to handle. But hey, Jarry was just 15 himself when he wrote the first version of Ubu Roi, and director Jon Watson, who led the company through its debut production of As You Like It this time last year at the Blue, was confident that his crew was up to the task of realizing Jarry's mad world, "pschittens" and all. And he was right.

For although Watson's Ubu Ubu Ubu compresses Ubu the King, Ubu Cuckolded, and Ubu Enchained into a single 90-minute play, it doesn't soften the sharp stick that Jarry was jabbing in society's eye or stint on the nonsense that provided much of the inspiration for Dadaism and remains much of the appeal of the Ubu plays today. Pa and Ma Ubu are still the crass, churlish couple that make Albee's George and Martha look like Ward and June Cleaver, and the four students playing them (at one point the Ubus undergo a sort of magical plastic surgery to escape their enemies, not that it succeeds) find that low moral ground on which they crawl and imbue them with a winning comic coarseness. Everyone in the cast seems to thrive on the oddball illogic of the play, which leads to some quite polished comedy. And the whole enterprise is enlivened with animated dance breaks that seem to boogie in from way left field. Ubu in the midst of a Bollywood production number? It makes no sense, which is to say it makes perfect sense in this nonsense world. And it's part of the reason that this 21st-century Ubu provokes less outrage and more delight.

Ubu Ubu Ubu runs through Dec. 11, Friday and Saturday, 8pm, Sunday, 2:30pm, at the Blue Theater, 916 Springdale. For more information, call 476-0594 x1.

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