A Stroll in the Air

Teatrul Național ”Lucian Blaga” din Cluj-Napoca

25 June 2024

A tragicomical performance about a hollow world inflated by convention and prejudice, Eugène Ionesco’s A Stroll in the Air premiered on 30 May on the main stage of the Cluj-Napoca National Theatre.

Bérenger (played by Matei Rotaru), a recurring character in Ionesco’s plays, humanity’s last hope in the face of total stultification, appears this time as a playwright who has given up on his art, looking to achieve happiness by living a simple life in rural England. However, in the true spirit of the theatre of the absurd, the false pretenses on which ordinary life is built begin to show through, and the idyllic scenery is periodically disrupted by the marks of war.

Our protagonist suddenly discovers that he is able to fly, but his attempt to demonstrate that flight is natural for human beings is regarded as foolish and even insulting by the respectacle citizens incapable of seeing beyond the confines of their existence. Shun and ridiculed once he starts to share impressions from his aerial strolls, Bérenger comes to embody the wisdom of the visionary who has grasped the scope of post-apocalyptic emptiness and loneliness.

Featuring an impressive cast, Gábor Tompa’s show distils the essence of this deformed society within a space and time that feel very contemporary – visually constructed, with ingenuity, by scenographer Adrian Damian and musically annotated, on a playful note, by composer Vasile Șirli. Bérenger’s story and its warnings about the consequences of human inertia expand beyond the Cold War world in which Ionesco wrote the play, leading us back to the dangers of the present – the death and the emptiness lurking close by, waiting to pounce.

Eugène Ionesco is one of the most prominent voices of the European Avant-Garde, being regarded as one of the founders of the theatre of the absurd. His writings expose language automatisms, the artificiality of human relationships, and the separation of individuals from their own consciousness in speech that only simulates the rejection of meaning. Featured in four bitter comical plays, the character of Bérenger is in fact an autobiographical insertion, born out of Ionesco’s exasperation with post-war excess and irrationality.  

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Cover photo: (c) Nieu Checiu

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