The title of a play usually permits one to anticipate its content. However, in The Bald Soprano, nobody sings and no head is bald. In most plays, words are chosen to make the strongest possible impact. In The Bald Soprano, language flows independently from meaning. A play has a plot and at times subplots. The Bald Soprano does not. It is subtitled an “anti-play,” and that is true.
The scene is the English living room of an English couple, the Smiths. Mr. Smith reads the newspaper. Mrs. Smith comments on the dinner they just had, as if her husband had not been there; she praises yogurt, which is good for the stomach, “appendicitis, and apotheosis.” Mr. Smith remarks that a good doctor must die with his patient. He announces the death of Bobby Watson; the same name, repeated thirty times, is applied to all the members of Bobby’s extended family.
The rest of the play is in keeping with this introductory segment. Mary, the maid, introduces the Martins. A long conversation, punctuated by “What a coincidence!,” permits the Martins to deduce that the Smiths are husband and wife. The doorbell rings three times. Nobody is there when Mrs. Smith opens the door. She concludes that every time the doorbell rings, there is nobody there. When Mr. Smith opens the door, the Fire Chief enters; he is in search of fires to extinguish. Various fables are told. Ambiguous statements about fire are made, while Mary throws herself on the Fire Chief. Clichés and false proverbs accumulate at an increasing pace, until the characters scream onomatopoeic words at each other. The noise stops; the lights turn off. When they come back on, the Martins are seated like the Smiths were in the first scene; they repeat the same sentences. The curtain falls.
The absurd language of the play was inspired years earlier, when Ionesco was in Romania and read the self-taught lessons in an English manual in which, for example, one learns the use of prepositions by discovering that the ceiling is above, the walls around, and the floor under. Such sentences stimulated Ionesco’s creativity. The title of the play was determined by chance. During a rehearsal, an actor erroneously replaced the banal expression “the blond teacher” contained in the script with the unexpected “the bald soprano.” The error fit well with Ionesco’s intentions and he adopted it; it fit so well, in fact, that the bald soprano, absent from the first play, appears as a singing bald English girl in A Stroll in the Air, the other play that Ionesco situated in England.
The surprise of the audience who attended the first performances of The Bald Soprano is understandable. Since then, however, the play has become the prototype of what was later called the Theater of the Absurd. It is the striking integration of the techniques that Ionesco discovered in surrealist poetry, with his own vision of literature.
After dinner, the Smiths sit down in the sitting room of their typically English home. Mr. Smith smokes his pipe and reads the newspaper. Mrs. Smith, insisting that they are a typically English couple, speak of what they ate and what the children did. Mr. Smith clicks his tongue.
When Mrs. Smith remarks that Dr. Mackenzie-King had his own liver removed before operating on Mr. Parker’s liver, Mr. Smith argues that if Mackenzie-King was really a good doctor, he should have taken his own life when Parker did not survive the liver operation; he asserts that a doctor should perish with a patient just as a captain goes down with the ship. Mr. Smith then changes the subject, mentioning that he read that their friend Bobby Watson died. The couple speaks about Bobby but quickly become lost in a confused conversation; because all of Bobby Watson’s relatives are also named Bobby Watson, they are unable to figure out whom they are talking about, who died, and who is still alive.
Mary, the Smiths’ maid, returns from her day off and announces that the Martins, whom they invited to dinner, were waiting for...
(The entire section is 2,524 words.)