Do Be Absurd, Darling

Alas, Poor Fred and A Slight Accident. Written by James
Saunders and directed by Ed Giron. At Center Stage Theater, Friday,
September 8.

Reviewed by Charles Donelan

Alas%2C-Poor-Fred.jpgThese two short plays were written by
the little-known British absurdist James Saunders. Saunders began
his career writing for the radio, and his stage plays retain the
emphasis on contentious conversation so characteristic of classic
radio comedy. Although there were laughs to be had, neither piece
could accurately be described as pure comedy. No matter how
sparkling and witty the ripostes became, the undertones were dark
and the conflicts were real. Due to his pervasive influence on Tom
Stoppard, among others, Saunders, whose work dates from the 1960s,
offers contemporary audiences an easily recognizable manner that
conceals an unexpected punch.

The first piece, A Slight Accident, opens with a gunshot.
Penelope (Barbara Tzur) has just shot her husband, Harry (Thomas
Hurd). Although the gambit at first reads as a deliberate affront
to theatrical conventions — the proverbial “gun in the first act”
isn’t ordinarily supposed to go off until at least the second — the
plot situation soon becomes recognizably similar to that of
Shakespeare’s Macbeth, in which the action takes place mostly after
the murder of the king. In this case, Penelope plays both Macbeth
and Lady Macbeth, angrily justifying her crime while at the same
time blithely denying it. Marion Freitag, as a television-obsessed
downstairs neighbor, and David Brainard, as her annoyingly
self-confident husband, handled the complex demands of this
timing-intensive piece admirably.

The night’s most impressive performances came in the second
piece, Alas, Poor Fred, with real-life married couple Marilyn
Gilbert and Nathan Rundlett taking on the portrayal of Mr. and Mrs.
Pringle, an older English couple seeking answers to an apparent
riddle — what has happened to their mutual friend Fred? Fred has
been cut in half, and all the arguing and reminiscing and red
herring chasing that Mr. and Mrs. Pringle do can’t put him back
together again, either in reality or in their own minds. Nathan
Rundlett plays Earnest Pringle with a kind of Wallace (from Wallace
and Gromit)-like amiability and nearsightedness. As Ethel Pringle,
Marilyn Gilbert is by turns puckish and withering, saving her
choicest remarks for when her husband is out of earshot, either
trying to walk one of their (dead) pets or just fast asleep in his

The influence of Saunders’ work on everything from Monty Python
to Absolutely Fabulous is most evident here, yet there is also a
melancholy that links the fun with the sleepless despair of Samuel
Beckett. Ed Giron and company are to be congratulated for bringing
such fresh and relevant fare to Santa Barbara and for such a good


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