The Westmont College Theatre Arts Department will present Eugène Ionesco’s landmark theater piece The Bald Soprano at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and Oct. 29-31 in Westmont’s Porter Theatre.

Directed by professor Mitchell Thomas, The Bald Soprano will be performed by a rotating cast of eight: first-year actors Sam Martin, Spencer Fox and Shawnee Witt; sophomore actress Brittany Chaco; junior actresses Jessie Drake and Hannah Rae Moore; and senior actresses Jessica Papp and Marie Ponce. The piece will be performed in a new translation by American playwright Tina Howe (Painting Churches, The Art of Dining and Approaching Zanzibar).

I have so far avoided referring to The Bald Soprano as a “play,” since the action of it is neither consecutive nor coherent, and the characters have names but not individual personalities. It often has been called an “anti-play.”

In 1949, at age 40, Rumanian-born Francophone Ionesco decided to learn English. He acquired a primer, one of those with page after page of generic dialogue intended to illustrate the most efficient ways of asking — or answering — questions. It is not recorded whether Ionesco actually learned English from this primer, but he was inspired by it to write the piece about to take the stage at Westmont.

Eugène Ionesco

Eugène Ionesco

He intended to parody the theater (his original title was to be L’anglais Sans Peine/“English Without Pain,” which sounds like a self-help language book but also like an obvious reference to Terence Rattigan’s immensely successful first play, French Without Tears in 1936.

Ionesco also thought he was writing “a tragedy of language,” but when he read it to his friends, they kept breaking out in laughter. He realized that he had, in fact, produced a comedy — a brilliant, hilarious, literally nonsensical comedy. It opened in 1950, without causing much of a stir; a few years later, it started getting hailed as a classic of the “Theater of the Absurd.” That’s where it stands now.

“Most of the actors are playing multiple roles, and each performance will feature a different combination of actors playing a different combination of roles,” Thomas said. “Essentially, no two performances will be alike, so audiences will be able to come again and again to rediscover the play as the actors perform it fresh each time.”

Tickets will be $10 for general admission, and $5 for students and seniors.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor.