The Proof is in the Hash Browns: Jack or the Submission and The Future is in Eggs

It’s Sunday night at the Palace Theater and the show, Eugène Ionesco’s Jack or the Submission and The Future is In Eggs, is about to start; the audience of about 30 has a perfect panoramic view of a stage with a few simple props. But as the light dims and a soft French song wafts throughout The Palace, the actors that appear are not exactly what the typical theatergoer might expect. I’m slightly confused when the performers emerge clad in strange outfits, brightly colored tights with their faces painted stark white. I’m a little puzzled when the cast sways together oddly to peculiar music. But I am officially lost when Jack, the protagonist, played by junior Greg Rittchen, shouts, “I adore hashbrown potatoes!” and his family bursts into tears and rejoices.

 I can almost hear everyone in the audience give a collective, but silent, what hash browns?

“Everything in this play is a metaphor for something else,” first-year Christina Liu, who plays the lead, Roberta, opposite Rittchen, said. “The play is extremely unique, but it gets to the heart of a lot of issues we face in everyday society, even if the society that the audience sees is a little strange. They have to accept the play for what it is.”

And she’s right. It is a little strange to say the least. Jack or the Submission and The Future is in Eggs is a play by Eugène Ionesco, one of the foremost playwrights of the Theatre of the Absurd. The absurdist sketches that he’s famous for are supposed to explore modern feelings of alienation, submission, conformities and the constant pressures of society that we all must eventually face, but all within a surreal comic sense. Submission is no exception to this rule.

“Jack, or the Submission, and The Future is in Eggs reveal daily life as I sometimes see it: funny, ridiculous, nonsensical, insignificant, dehumanized,” director Simona Giurgea said in her director’s note. “Ionesco satirizes the condition of living according to values never questioned and finds inspiration in the absurdity of a world in which objects dominate and people are socially conditioned to respond to with prejudice and precedent. With humor and intelligence he invites us to observe while being observed.”

The play tells the story of a family living in an alternate society in which adoring hash brown potatoes are a strict normalcy. Jack, who, in opposition to his family’s rules and traditions, simply refuses to eat them, citing that he just doesn’t like them. But thanks to enormous pressure from his family, he acquiesces and pretends to go along with their plans to participate in an arranged marriage to hideous Roberta with three noses. Ugliness is a favorable virtue in their society. The following scenes center around the innocent development of Jack and Roberta’s relationship, no matter how strange that development may seem; there is indeed more talk about hash-brown potatoes. But by the end of play, the weird factor reaches its ultimate high when the audience is privy to Roberta giving birth to a few dozen eggs thanks to an elaborate egg-producing machine (because, how else would you hatch eggs?).

 “As they march enthusiastically into the tunnels of conformism, the characters are unreal in their lack of perspective, hilarious in their instinctual force, ridiculous in their obstinacy. Yet, the noise they make in their game of living rhymes strangely with the noise of our own lives,” Giurgea wrote.

While I spent a lot of the time trying to grasp the significance of the surreal nonsensical exchanges that Ionesco is so fond of, the most important part of the performance is to understand the underlying themes of societal pressures. This slightly skewed version of society should strike cords within our own society. How often do we fall to the pressures that our family places before us? Go along with things we don’t always believe in to make others happy? Submit to social norms and fixed ideas?

There will be points where you’ll get it and there will certainly be points where you really don’t get it. But Jack or the Submission and The Future Is in Eggs is a wonderfully performed piece and one you shouldn’t miss.