Not since "Rhinoceros" has Eugene Ionesco been so inventive as he seems in "Man with Bags." This adaptation by Israel Horovitz is the first presentation of "L'Homme aux Valises" in America, and Paul Berman's production at Towson State University is an excellent one.
The Romanian-born French playwright, more personal in his allusions than ever before, is in the mood to talk of how in our lifetimes we accumulate a luggage of paradoxical memories. Now 65, he seems to be trying to clean out his mental attic and fortunately has not lost his sense of the absurd.
Although invention is everywhere alive, ultimately the mood is not sustained. Is this because Ionesco seems stuck in Nazi-occupation memories? Is it because when a man looks back in his 60s, his high tide seems to have been his 30s? Is this, perhaps, true of anyone who survives that long?
At all events, in the final 20 to 30 minutes my interest turned to my wristwatch. Despite the sense of over-extension, the theatrical images are amusing and provocative.
Lugging two suitcases, which eventually he will swear were three, Ionesco's new Everyman steps onto an octagonal stage floor from which decades in time are visible.Procedures for an imminent journey are explained. His mother graciously welcomes his wife into the family; later his mother will be in a wheelchair, greeting her own mother as she recalls her from childhood.
There will be the modern European's unwinnable battle for papers, passports and visas, permits and reservations. He is thrown, with the ever-present bags, not into a hotel but into a ward for the dying. Uniformed bureaucrats, as Nazis or Red Cross workers, gang up on all individuals.
he Horovitz contribution has been colloquial American. The music Carly Simon contributed (and Michael Decker arranged and augmented) has a jangled tone which seems suitable to accompany dreams. It is a delicate collaboration.
Berman's staging is wonderfully resourceful, though less of it in the final portion would make the point more effectively. There is nice use of unlettered signs for the protagonist, who no longer can remember names, his own included; the tyranny of the telephone is funnily observed.
Dwight Schultz is most adept as the protagonist through whose eyes this dream world is viewed. Veteran Paula Trueman is deliciously feisty as the mother figure, now in a wheelchair, now with a gun. Larry Smith, Gordon Gray, Joan Strueber and Linda Selman are other skilled professionals in this exceptionally adroit aim to capture the crazy focus of dreams.
Towson's 2-year-old Fine Arts Theater, an Osler Drive, seats 375 before a well-equipped thrust stage. Performances will continue nightly at 8:30, Mondays excepted, through Oct. 1.