Eugene Ionesco's artful tragicomedy plants its narrative tentpole in the shifting sands where surreal absurdity meets the universal truth. King Berenger (Alexander Wells) is dying — but he refuses to believe it and instead spends his days dallying with his beautiful second wife, Queen Marie (Gina Manziello). Meanwhile, as the kingdom falls to pieces, it's left to pragmatic first wife Queen Marguerite (Ellyn Stern) to break his majesty of his foolish delusions and ready him for the inevitable. Utilizing Neil Armfield and Geoffrey Rush's playful and sophisticated translation, director Michael Matthys' staging gamely transitions from oafish farce, during the scenes in which King Berenger arrogantly deludes himself that he will live forever, to the beautifully elegiac sequences in which Queen Marguerite convinces him otherwise and guides him to the world beyond. This is a production whose early clownishness belies great philosophical wisdom. Wells' immature Berenger is a beautifully rendered realization of a self-absorbed fellow who is forced to go through all the stages of panic and bargaining in about 20 minutes. Stern, in an incredibly complex martinet-cum-savior turn as Bergenger's first wife, offers a towering performance that beautifully conveys the changes when fear of death turns to acceptance. Classical Theatre Lab at Fiesta Hall, 1200 N. Vista St., W. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sun., 7:30 p.m.; through April 1. (323) 960-5961. classicaltheatrelab.org.
Fridays-Sundays, 7:30 p.m.; Fridays-Sundays, 7:30 p.m. Starts: Feb. 24. Continues through March 17, 2012