Les Todd
Les Todd

Exit the King

June 1, 2009

As news headlines continue to focus on the fallout of the economic crisis, Duke's theater studies spring performance of Eugène Ionesco's 1962 play Exit the King could not have come at a more opportune time, according to director Ellen Hemphill, assistant professor of the practice of theater studies.

"We live in a time when it feels like the sky is falling," she says. "As in the play, rivers are drying up, animals are disappearing, and wars in various parts of the world have created a transitory global crisis. The king in this play allowed personal accumulation and destruction of others for his own glory and did not invest in creation for the betterment of others. How could it be more timely?"

The play was performed in the Bryan Center during the first two weeks of April.

Hemphill acted in the play early in her career, touring across Europe and Mexico with the Roy Hart Theatre. She says that having the chance to direct it helped her see new dimensions of the play. "The sheer absurdity of the play, the possibility of using magical realism to set off the king's world…offered a challenge that I found exciting," she says.

Hemphill invited guest artists including world-renowned master puppeteer Basil Twist and award-winning composer Allison Leyton-Brown to participate in the production with a cast of students.

While in residency at Duke this past February, Twist designed and began fabricating the puppet elements of Exit the King, which included everything from realistic marionettes to more whimsical creatures and found-object puppets. Local puppeteer Tori Ralston collaborated with Twist, overseeing the execution of their designs and managing the nine puppeteers who joined the cast of mostly undergraduate actors.