Like many of the plays I have ended up directing, my first encounter with Exit the King was an unremarkable one because I was not ready for it. I first read it as a college sophomore, and death or the "end of things" was not a part of my life yet. I still felt immortal and life was a huge, fabulous thing that held the promise of more fabulous things. Even when change occurred, it felt like it was leading to new, wonderful pathways and had not yet become a cause for anything but excitement.

Many years later, in 2009, I attended the production of Exit the King on Broadway, starring Geoffrey Rush, and I was astounded by it. I was thrilled by its theatricality and its intimations. Looking back, I realize that while it was a thrilling night of theatre for me, I was still not experiencing its full impact. However, it did leap onto my "want to direct" list the minute I saw it. Since then, much has happened in my life that has indeed made me far more equipped to enter the dark and mysterious realm of this masterpiece by Ionesco, and has confirmed my theory that plays wiggle their way back into your life when you are finally ready for them, or perhaps when you need them the most.

A concise summing up of this play is neither possible nor advisable in these notes. It would do a great disservice to both the play and to you, the reader, in part because I truly feel that the play has the power to unfold a different tale and different meaning for each and every audience member. I prefer to let each of you to have the liberty to feel or interpret the play yourself, without my or some scholar's estimations intruding on your personal response to it.

It has been labeled in many ways: a tragi-comedy; a dark, comedic tragedy; a parable or allegory; a lyric ode to life; a death ritual; a symbolic dramatic poem; an absurdist metaphor; a celebration of life and death. It is all these things and more. Like all great works of art, its layers seem endless, and dauntingly impenetrable, but as they are peeled away, one is more and more impressed by its ability to convey the universal, the eternal, and the infinite. Ionesco wrote the play in 1962, and since then the world has changed in huge ways, and yet the play's staying power and its implications have only increased.

The play provides no answers; it only poses questions, and they are the very large questions that each and every human soul has pondered since we first came into being. For some, it is a disturbing play; for others inspirational and comforting. For those who will react, perhaps with frustration or anger, to the play's "absurdist" qualities, I only say this: it is no more absurd than real life. It is to me, far more "realistic" than realistic or naturalistic drama. It simply presents a totally authentic, internal reality, rather than an inevitably inauthentic external one. And nowadays, it seems to reflect, more and more, our external reality as well. Each morning, the cast and I would discuss the news of the day, and without fail, we marveled at the absurdities abounding in our current world - many of them eerily described in this chillingly prescient play. No matter what, it does what we need great literature to do; it takes the things we fear most, the things we are most bewildered by, the questions that plague us, the great dilemmas of our existence, and it gives those things and conundrums a poetic and dramatic life, that for a few moments in time, at the very least, makes us marvel at the mystery of our existence.

Bonnie J. Monte


"The purpose of great art is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable."


"The paradox and charm of the play are that out of his despair, and perhaps to his astonishment, Ionesco has written a hymn of praise to every instant, event, and ordinary phenomenon of life."

- Harold Clurman

"It seems to me that the comic is tragic and the tragedy of man is pure derision."

- Eugene Ionesco

"Theatre of the Absurd is mainly concerned with the outward projection of psychological and the main stress is on the poetic image."

-Martin Esslin

"A grain of salt that dissolves in water doesn't disappear: it makes the water salty."

- Marguerite
in Exit the King

"We come into the world crying, we end up loving the world and then we no longer want to leave it. We are trapped. It is this mortal condition which is unsatisfying."

- Eugene Ionesco