THE CHAIRS (Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium): 2016 Fringe review 8

Sketch by Chuck Shultz.

Sketch by Chuck Shultz.

IRC presents a must-see revival of Eugene Ionesco’s 1952 classic THE CHAIRS, a defining work of the theater of the absurd. The play teeters on the edge of a metaphysical abyss, hovering between presence and absence, sight and invisibility, sound and silence, being and non-being. It is a grim travesty where nothingness is not only the main theme but a dramatic persona.

An Old Woman (Tina Brock) and an Old Man (Bob Schmidt), live on an island, with “water under the windows, stretching as far as the horizon”.  (A superb minimalist stage design sees mist hovering over the set: a circular wall of a lighthouse with many doors and flowing gauze draperies on the ceiling from which hangs a vintage bulb.) Married for 75 years, the couple grouse, argue, make up, reminisce, and play games as they wait for guests to arrive by boats: the guests are invisible but we can intuit their presence through the couple’s interactions. Tonight is the big night. The Old Man has invited society’s crème de la crème to hear his message to the world, a revelation that will save humanity after it is delivered by an Orator (Tomas Dura) who is to speak on Old Man’s behalf. But we are in Ionesco’s universe, where meaning is always resisted and challenged. Words pile up faster than chairs; cognitive dissonance reigns over the stage as language games fracture in a world where Paris “never existed” or perhaps “it must have existed because it collapsed…Nothing remains of it but a song.”  It is nothing that eats away at the old couple, at their jittery, half-demented recollections, at their fleeting and jumbled longings in a place that’s half-madhouse, half-circus—rendered under Brock’s direction less in the grim key of tragedy, but an octave higher, as farce.

[Walnut Street Theatre Studio 5, 825 Walnut Street] September 6 –25, 2016; fringearts.com/eugene-ionesco-chairs.

 

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About the author

Lev Feigin

Lev Feigin is a Philadelphia writer, flâneur, biker and kayaker. He holds a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the CUNY Graduate Center and is an alumnus of The Writers Institute at the Graduate Center.