Eugene Ionesco’s Exit the King is the story of King Berenger, ruler of a crumbling kingdom, who wakes up one more morning with aching bones, a failing liver and a really bad headache, among other ailments. Even worse, nothing and no one around him—not the weather, not his wretched first queen, not even his adoring second queen and trusty guard—obeys his commands. Since the King has ruled for more than four centuries, thus overstaying his welcome by about 200 years or so, it seems the administrators upstairs have made an executive decision—to terminate the King’s reign and his life, effective immediately. Not ready to give up the ghost, however, Berenger fights the inevitable as his mind and body shut down. Can this materialistic, greedy, cruel and uncaring monarch learn to let go of the one thing he loves most—himself?
What Is Exit the King Like?
If that rather ridiculous and dark setup didn’t tip you off, let it be stated clearly that Exit the King is very funny. A lesser-known work from playwright Eugene Ionesco, whose work epitomized the “Theater of the Absurd” movement in the late ‘50s, it uses lots of cheap laughs and other Monty Python-esque nonsense to execute some bleak themes and higher-minded intentions. Sure, Ionesco’s idea of a dumb joke is still pretty cerebral, but seeing the cast dance and do double-takes and go gleefully over the top is like watching one of those juggling chefs at Benihana—even if you dislike Japanese food, you’re still mesmerized by all those sights and sounds! As King Berenger closes in on his fate, the humor gets lost in the darkness, but the play won’t lose you. It’s like getting sucked into an episode of I Love Lucy, only to realize you’re watching Masterpiece Theatre.
Is Exit the King Good for Kids?
While much of the comedy is physical, with plenty of sight gags and miming and clowning around, Exit the King probably won’t speak to youngsters. It may have the young ones chuckling for a few minutes, but the story won’t engage them. Even teens may not connect with the material, since the play’s main theme involves coming to terms with death and resonates most with those who’ve reached, oh, at least their 30th birthday. Unless you have a teenager who is consistently described as “so wise beyond his/her years,” leave the kids at home and make this an “adults only” event.