the chairs by Eugene Ionesco, translated by Donald M. Allen, directed by Soheil Parsa, with Michelle Polak, Peter Farbridge and Ed Fielding. Presented by Modern Times at Artword Alternative (75 Portland). Runs to October 14, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2:30 pm. $15-$20, Sunday pwyc. 416-651-5480. Rating: NNN
ionesco's the chairs might notbe the most comfortable show in town, but it's given lots of support by a vivid design and two remarkable actors. Set in a lighthouse in an unnamed period, possibly after a war, the absurdist farce shows an old couple preparing to deliver a message for humanity to a roomful of invited (and invisible, at least to us) guests.
There's more than a touch of clown work in director Soheil Parsa's production, from the subtle white-face makeup to the actors' physical bumblings and manic bickering.
It's a difficult piece to stage. Who are the characters? Is the action happening in their fevered imaginations? Parsa suggests a lot, but more clarity is needed, especially in the rambling first half.
Jan Komarek's set resembles a bomb shelter, with dark brown earth hinting at the possibility of new growth -- a rich symbol in the work that also has political implications. And Komarek's lighting design, as always, is brilliant. I'd pay to see him install a light bulb.
Peter Farbridge and Michelle Polak are well matched, Farbridge's obsequious, poetic and romantic man contrasting with Polak's circus barker of a lusty woman, prematurely old.
The final section of the show is electric, so full of life and ideas that it's difficult to stay put in your own chair. Too bad we have to sit through the less remarkably shaped earlier scenes to get there.