Send in The Chairs

Clown-influenced staging of the Ionesco farce hits most of its marks

THE CHAIRS by Eugene Ionesco, directed by Jim Warren (Soulpepper). Young Centre (55 Mill). Runs in rep to September 6. $29-$54, stu/rush $18, youth rush $5. See Continuing, page 83. 416-866-8666. Rating: NNNN

Absurdity doesn’t always age well – or at least Theatre of the Absurd doesn’t. But while Eugene Ionesco‘s 1952 The Chairs has a dated feel, the Soulpepper production, directed with energy and feeling by Jim Warren , sidesteps the script’s problems, moving us to laughter and moments of sadness. Subtitled A Tragic Farce, the piece is set on an island where the Old Man and Old Woman eagerly await a party of visitors who will hear the Man’s solution to world problems. Since he can’t speak well himself, he’s invited an Orator to deliver his vital message.

In Sue LePage‘s salt-eaten, decaying set of flowing walls and multiple doors, with Richard Feren‘s sound design providing a slightly unreal atmosphere, the elderly twosome soothe each other, bicker and play games while they await their guests, who turn out to be invisible to the audience though not to the couple.

Warren emphasizes the pair’s clown aspect, and Oliver Dennis and Kristen Thomson are skilled at playing the goofy humour tinged with melancholy. They know how to suggest this couple’s long-term relationship, in which control shifts back and forth.

The comic highlight of the production has the two racing back and forth to the calls of “more guests, more chairs” as visitors arrive fast and furious and the couple furnish the stage with dozens of chairs to mad, unheard rhythms. The actors handle the farcical action with acrobatic zest the backstage choreography must be as insane as what we see onstage.

Kevin Bundy caps the action as an elegant Orator who could have just left a Hollywood party. The contrast between his look and his message is properly ironic.

Martin Crimp ‘s translation, with its occasional Dr. Seuss-like rhymes and cadences, is melodically playable, but he can’t get around the repetitious and predictable quality of Ionesco’s script. Still, Warren and company make this musical Chairs a game worth playing.

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