Exit the King Director, Kevin Sutley, provides the following insight into the themes of mortality and our lives in the face of death, as found in Ionesco’s classic masterpiece, Exit the King (May 17-26, 2018, Timms Centre for the Arts).
Theatre is ephemeral.
As theatre artists we must constantly let go. We intensely focus on our work for a period of time and then we are done. Our work disappears, our creations vanish and our legacy is a nothing more than memory. Because of this, theatre has long been a metaphor for our lives as individuals.
Working on a play about death and dying, I begin to see that death is all around me. As we age, we see more and more of it, but rarely do we contemplate death itself. Rather, we reflect on personal loss or ponder some form of afterlife or some ‘energy-never-dies’ scenario. We avoid the profound permanence that the word death implies.
As I age, as my parents age, as we all age, I have only an abstract awareness that I am in an inexorable march toward one predetermined ending place. When I think of death my mind goes far away, to Syria or even Humboldt or Toronto. But death is here, in my family, in my workplace. Even our little company of artists and students were touched by death last week as a young colleague lost his mother.
Death is everywhere. Ionesco’s genius is demonstrated by how he points to our ridiculous attempts to avoid facing the inevitable confrontation with the inevitable. Like kings of our own little countries, we believe in our own importance and envision our legacies. We invent purpose and cling to our work. We invest in love and romantic relationships. Or like clowns in a Samuel Beckett play, we simply pass the time pretending the end is never coming, even as it approaches like a tsunami.
From this perspective, life truly is absurd, funny and sad. Our play does not offer any answers about the big questions of meaning, but instead points a finger and invites us to laugh at our own humanity, our human nature… our lives in the face of death. As to the question of meaning, there was an earlier playwright, perhaps neither an absurdist nor an existentialist, who wrote,
“It is a tale told by an idiot,
Full of sound and fury,
We present this work as we think about our friend Mukonzi and his family.
Kevin Sutley is a professor of Drama at the University of Alberta, Augustana Campus. He received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting and a Master of Fine Arts in Directing from the University of Alberta. As a professional actor and director, he has worked for such companies as Theatre Network, Northern Light Theatre and Azimuth Theatre. He has directed several productions including the Sterling Award winning “Dungeon Master’s Handbook” for Azimuth Theatre. For his own company, Kill Your Television Theatre, Professor Sutley directed the Elizabeth Sterling Haynes Award winning productions of “Suburbia”, “Shakespeare’s R&J” and “The Glass Menagerie”. He has received Sterling Award nominations as ‘Outstanding Director’ for his work on “Shakespeare’s R&J”, “Mules” and “Monster”. Professor Sutley has also taught acting and directing for Theatre Alberta, the Citadel Theatre and the University of Alberta main campus.