Hiram College

When Ubu Roi was first produced in 1896, it wasn’t quite like other plays audiences were used to seeing.

And as Hiram’s own cast prepares for its two-weekend run of the play by Frenchman Alfred Jarry, starting Oct. 19, director Rick Hyde expects the Hiram audience may feel the same.

“This is a really bizarre attempt to break down all the rules of theatre,” said Hyde, professor of theatre arts. “Our production will counter expectations – make the audience think about what it’s like to watch a play.”

Ubu Roi will be performed at the Renner Theater in the Frohring Performing Arts Hall, on Oct. 19-20 and Oct. 26-27, at 7:07 p.m. A late night performance will also take place Oct. 26 at 9:42 p.m. Tickets are free, but available on a first-come, first-serve basis at the door.

Hyde recommends guests arrive before 6:45 p.m. Cast members’ families may reserve tickets through the box office at 330-569-5242.

Scholars believe Jarry began writing Ubu Roi when he was just 15, and that the main character, Père Ubu, was based upon the playwright’s physics teacher. The storyline loosely follows a mockery of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, where a nobleman kills a king, takes over the throne and destroys the country in the process, but has its own set of twists and turns.

In a time where realism dominated the theatre world, Ubu Roi defied that expectation. The play has many characteristics of plays associated with the “theatre of the absurd” in the 1950s and 60s, but it came about a half century before the genre became mainstream.   

“The attraction of the play, to me, is that it shows people were reaching into all different areas to express themselves,” Hyde said. “Not everyone was doing realism at the time.”

Hyde approached the Hiram production with a storytelling format. The play is set, literally, in a theatre, with the cast as the storytellers and the audience as the audience. He added contemporary references to the script to complement the storytelling approach.

Because they are storytellers, the actors don’t have assigned roles; they act as an ensemble, and during the rehearsal process, chose who would play each role at different parts of the play.

So just like when telling a story, someone may jump in and take over a part in the middle of a scene, depending on whom or what best suits the play’s need at the moment.

It taught the students cooperation, Hyde said, and to step back and see what is most needed for the play’s creativity, and not just oneself.

“Everybody contributes and needs to contribute,” he said. “Creativity is not just a way to call attention to yourself. It’s not about you; it’s about the story.”

Hyde said the play’s message – what happens when people stay in a perpetual state of adolescence – is one that audiences will likely find relevant today.

“I don’t know if (Jarry) was predicting, but he saw something in giving power to people who can’t even keep their house in order,” he said. “Maybe it’s that we haven’t gotten anywhere in 120 years.”

Fifteen years ago, Hyde directed Ubu Roi at Hiram College, and after the show, someone said to him, “I didn’t understand a word of it, but I loved every minute of it.”

And if he accomplishes that again, he said he’s done his job.

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