by Eugene Ionesco


directed by Shira Piven


A Red Orchid Theatre

through August 5, 2018 

Review by Ruth Smerling


Ionesco, Beckett, Brecht.  When you hear these names you think abstract, unfamiliar, and metaphoric.  All kinds of adjectives come up that basically mean there’s an uncertain plot and it can be interpreted a number of different ways.  Even more important, one cannot be considered literate and fluent in the language of theatre, without being knowledgeable of these theatrical mavericks.  After seeing their work, to the open-minded, the necessary insight ensues, and voila, you’re inducted into the world of the intelligentsia and high art.  Maybe.  For this blurry-eyed scribbler, it all just looks like a dream. 


A Red Orchid Theatre, a great proponent of the Theatre of the Absurd is performing a special summer engagement of Eugene Ionesco’s Victims of Duty, one of his earlier and lesser known works, but one that helped boost the reputation of A Red Orchid in 1996.  Much of the original cast and crew have returned including Guy Van Swearingen, Michael Shannon, director Shira Piven and production designer Danila Korogodsky. 


This time around, Karen Aldridge joins the cast as Madeline.  She sits knitting while her husband, Choubert (Guy Van Swearingen) reads the newspaper.  It’s just a quiet night at home.  They make a little small talk and Madeline asks if Choubert would like to see any theater.  He says no because “they’re all thrillers” (which sounds like something translated awkwardly from French to English).  He doesn’t want to get bogged down trying to solve mysteries.  It’s more than he wants to deal with.  Later that night (probably after they’ve gone to bed and drifted into sleep), a detective enters (Michael Shannon) asking about a previous tenant in their flat.  He wants to know if the gentleman spelled name, Mallot, with a T or a D at the end.  An in depth investigation begins and with no guarantee that they will find the answer.  They must go deeper and deeper into bottomless mire until they come up with an answer. True to any good mystery other characters pop in to throw the investigators off their scent.  The first is a Lady (Mierka Gierten) and then Nicholas D’eu (Richard Cotovsky), who poses a threat to the detective.


Choubert and Madeline’s routine are disrupted by the detective who is demanding and intimidating.  As they dig deeply for clues, the characters of the Lady and Nicholas D’eu represent the strength they have to overthrow the detective and return to status quo.  Artistic Director Kirsten Fitzgerald says “Victims of Duty was the first show I ever saw at A Red Orchid.  She says “I am not entirely sure Ionesco’s investigation of a life made logical sense to me at the time, but it made perfect emotional sense and was viscerally stunning.  So much so that I knew I needed to work with these people in this space.”  Danila Korogodsky’s set is simple and playful and Brando Triantafilou’s sound design heightens the mystery.  Shira Piven, with the wisely cast ensemble, creates a vivid dream state with the actors delivering comical characters riddled with questioning and angst, trying to tread a clear path despite lots of obstacles, until they finally find the strength to get up and face another day. 


Victims of Duty runs through August 5 at A Red Orchid Theatre, 1531 N. Wells Street.  Tickets are $50 and can be purchased at the box office, by phoning 312-943-8722 or visit