Hijinks will ensue at performance of “English Without Effort”


The Appalachian Online

Aleah Warner

Appalachian State University’s department of theatre and dance will bring a unique type of comedy to the stage with its production of “English Without Effort,” an interactive performance designed to provoke thought from the audience about the way humans communicate with one another. The show will be held at the Valborg Theatre from Friday until Monday.  

“English Without Effort” is the combination of two one-act plays, “The Bald Soprano” and “Jack, or the Submission.” The first act takes place at a dinner party hosted by characters Mr. and Mrs. Smith, while the second act concerns a family hoping to push their son out of the nest by arranging his marriage with their neighbor’s daughter.

Although the two plays aren’t related, they share similarities in their messages about the dangers of miscommunication and outrageous contradiction in everyday speech.

Both pieces were written by playwright Eugene Ionesco in the 1950s and fall under the genre of absurd comedy. Derek Gagnier, the director of English Without Effort, said Ionesco’s theatre of the absurd is a precursor to the type of comedy sketches seen in “Monty Python” or “Saturday Night Live.”

“I think the degree of thought about society can be much sharper and can satirize much more directly,” Gagnier said. “These are racy little plays, there is a lot of innuendo and they’re darn funny so I think that the average theatre-goer is going to be pleasantly surprised.”

There are nine actors between the two shows. “The Bald Soprano” will feature six actors who will go on to perform different roles in “Jack, or the Submission.” The actors will sit and speak directly with viewers.

Gagnier changed the years of each of the pieces. The first act will be set in the 1960s, while the second act will be set in the 1980s and feature the influence that video games have on young adults.  

The title “English Without Effort” spurred as a joke about Ionesco’s writing process, Gagnier said. Ionesco spoke French, but he wrote “The Bald Soprano” using a French-to-English conversation book. Because of this, many of the lines are stiff until brought to life in the performance.   

“It’s a joke because English comes as such an effort for these people,” Gagnier said. “If you read it at first glance, it sounds like the French book I had in high school. It’s a bunch of statements. But when you look at it a bit deeper, all of the sudden you see all this character behavior underneath and that’s what the cast and I have been exploring for a while and now we’re finding the humanness about it. It’s been really fun.”

Senior theatre performance major Sarah Duttlinger said the show will be a unique experience for viewers because Appalachian State does not usually choose absurdist comedy pieces.

“We haven’t done absurdist in a long time, or at least as long as I’ve been here,” Duttlinger said. “You don’t get opportunities to see Ionesco produced often since it can be so difficult, so this is a really neat treat for both the actors and crew as well as the audience.”

Aaron Scotch, a senior theatre performance major who plays a role in each show, said he thinks that students will be able to relate to the message that the performances carry.

“I think as college students we get lost in small talk and lectures but we don’t take time to get lost in concentration,” Scotch said. “These plays kinda offer an exaggerated view of how we interact and I think that can show a college age audience the importance of real authentic communication. I hope that we can not only make the audience laugh, but make them think critically about their day to day interactions afterwards.

Story By: Aleah Warner Intern A&E Reporter