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Ubu Roi Establishes a Reign of Comic Terror at Todd Theatre

October 5, 2012 | 0 Comments

When it premiered in Paris in 1896, Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi caused a sensation, provoked a riot, and was instantly banned. On Oct. 11, the University of Rochester’s International Theatre Program opens its 2012-2013 season at Todd Theatre with one of the theatre world’s most controversial plays and most unforgettable characters.

woman fighting man

l-r: Stella Kammel and Lydia Jimenez performing in Ubu Roi. Photo by J. Adam Fenster / University of Rochester.

“Ubu is a gluttonous and cowardly man; a symbol for all that is evil in the everyday man,” said Nigel Maister, artistic director of Rochester’s International Theatre. “And he is so frightening in part because he is so human.”

The play’s central character, Papa Ubu, is urged by his outrageous wife to kill the king of Poland. Once he becomes king, he establishes a reign of terror. But his greed and ambition spiral out of control and the world later turns on him. Written by Jarry in 1896 at the age of 15 and originally staged with puppets, the play was inspired by the playwright’s high school teacher. Though mired in controversy in its time, Ubu Roi went on to become a major influence on Dadaists and Surrealists, and it was an inspiration for the Theatre of the Absurd movement in the 1960s.

The play is directed by visiting guest artist Peter Karapetkov. A native of Bulgaria, Karapetkov studied both acting and directing at the National Academy for Theatre and Film Arts. In addition to directing, he has appeared in numerous theatre, film, and television productions, winning national and international awards. He was the youngest artistic director in Bulgaria and has lead the City Theatre Dimitrovgrad to tour extensively throughout Eastern Europe. Karapetkov is the director of PURE International in Charleston, S.C., and the producing artistic director of the Leon Katz Rhodopi International Theatre Laboratory, which he co-founded in 2005.

The production’s scenic and costume design also are by visiting Bulgarian artists. Production designer Krasi Valkanov’s work has been recognized at the Prague Biennale, and in Warsaw, Tokyo, and Moscow. His productions have been seen at numerous international festivals, including in Paris, Vienna, and Bogota. Valkanov has been honored with eight national awards for set, three national awards for costume design, and two international awards for set design. Costume designer Boryana (Bobi) Semerdzhieva received her master’s degree in fashion and set design from the National Academy of Arts and has had a career that spans production design for movies and theatre, and includes performances in several roles in cinema and TV. In 2010, she was nominated for the best costume design by the Bulgarian Movie Academy. In 2011 she received nominations for best costume and set design, and an award from the Independent Movie Festival in Los Angeles for best costume and set design. She also has received numerous awards from the Bulgarian Movie Academy, including best costume design (2009, 2006), and best costume and set design (2008).

Lighting design is by Allen Hahn, whose extensive credits include work for New York City Opera, Santa Fe Opera, Glimmerglass, and the Spoleto USA Festival. He has designed world premiere operas at Juilliard and at the Royal Danish Opera, and worked with the acclaimed experimental theatre company, The Builders Association. Sound design and original music are by Jonathan Snipes, whose work in electro-acoustic music and musique concrète has been heard internationally in film, theatre and other media. Snipes has contributed music to films and television, including Snakes on a PlaneThe Office, and Battlestar Galactica.

Ubu Roi opens on Thursday, Oct. 11, and runs through Saturday, Oct. 20, in Todd Theatre on the University of Rochester’s River Campus. Tickets are $7 for UR students; $10 for UR alumni, faculty and staff, and for seniors (55 and over); and $13 for the general public. Tickets may be purchased up to an hour before each performance at the box office. They also are available online at or by calling 585.275.4088.

Category: Society & Culture