As the dialog in the theatrical duet The Chairs goes on, you begin to notice the Old Woman (Kelly Doherty) and the Old Man (Tim Linn<) nonchalantly bringing chairs from places all over the stage into the scene. Somehow 52 chairs have made it on stage by the closing scene. Who was this guy Eugene Ionesco and what was he up to?
At Leda Hoffman’s direction Doherty and Linn, guide us along the final bend of that sleepy road that married couples travel in their golden years. The Old Woman and Old Man sit in their chairs, frail, all movements an ordeal. The Old Woman gushes over her husband, of how talented he is and how many people he knows. None of that seems to matter any more, those days were decades ago. The Old Man laments his chosen fate to sequester himself from the world to tend to their humble existence.
A Captain on a Sinking Ship
The Old Woman endearingly butters up the Old Man to tell her a story she’s heard a million times, of how the Old Man revealed his treasured life work to the most important people of the world.
They routinely pantomime the guests’ arrival, as a couple might play a cribbage game together, cordially greeting and conversing with their imaginary socialites. Some guests the Old Man knows. He speaks with regret to his true love Belle, as the Old Woman flirtatiously entertains the Colonel. Soon after they witness a tawdry affair between Belle and Colonel.
More guests arrive. As the Old Man answers the door, the Old Woman fetches chairs and struggles to find places for them. At one point she’s distracted by salacious banter with a photographer who lures her into her own vanity while the Old Man is distracted across the room. Finally, the Emperor arrives.
In a Pyrrhic victory over their futile lives the Old Man and Old Woman commit suicide in a dramatically metaphorical way, meeting the sea that they greet when the play opens, as they climb out of their humble abode’s windows before the plenary they’ve prepared even begins. The Orator enters dressed to the intellectual nines to deliver the Old Man’s message.
The Orator gathers himself and forcefully speaks a mumble, he cannot hear himself. He tries again. A strained sound exits his mouth, his tongue can’t find its way around his pallet, his is mute. He takes to the chalk board and rakes lines emphatically, inscribing what should be letters but are only line that happen to touch one another. He is illiterate.
Wringing Every Drop
Ionesco mastered “theater of the absurd”, and Leda Hoffman does well to see his vision through. Doherty and Linn share compelling stage presence convincingly portraying that intertwined distantness that elderly spouses sometimes have. The familiar routines, the prediction of the others’ mannerisms appear naturally through their portrayals.
Hoffman successfully makes space for the audience to interpret the piece. In her rendition. the growing distance between the Old Woman and Old Man leaves one to wonder do the chairs represent all those memories and lost interactions of the past each has held on to, drawing them further and further to isolation though their mutual company that never ends.
The Chairs closed The Alchemist’s 2013 – 2014 season February 22. Credit Antishadows for Lighting Design, Andrea Bouck for Costume Design, Stage Manager Jared McDaris, Dramaturg Emily Penick, Set and Sound Design Aaron Koepec.