‘Exit the King’ at American Players Theatre: Why would an absolute ruler accede to death?

Posted August 16, 2018

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By Lawrence B. Johnson, Chicago on the Aisle | August 16, 2018

SPRING GREEN, Wis. – Eugêne Ionesco’s play about dying, “Exit the King,” generally comes under the rubric of absurdist drama. But that tag doesn’t really fit the play. If a label is required, perhaps “figurative” – certainly, existential. An absorbing and quite affecting account at American Players Theatre rings with truth about that juncture in life where few arrive gladly: its end.

The King is very old; ancient. It’s safe to say he has lived too long. He once had great power over everything, but in his dotage he has watched his kingdom crumble – literally fall apart, not just politically but materially, structurally – to the point where he holds dominion over nothing. Even the population of his realm has shrunk to near zero. And now the King himself is dying.

Anyway, that’s what his doctor tells him, and the unwelcome news is supported by the King’s former Queen, Marguerite. But his new and nubile consort, Queen Marie, lovely and vapid in equal measure, dismisses the unhappy idea of royal mortality. The King will be fine, she tells his recumbent form. She is full of life and so must be the King.

The narrative of “Exit the King,” exceptionally linear and trackable for Ionesco and “absurdist” plays as a rule, is the story of the King’s final hours and, one might say, of the angel who comforts him, reassures him and allows him to make his exit in acceptance and peace.

Read the full review here!