Eugène Ionesco is considered one of the major figures of theater of the absurd, the French dramatic trend of the 1940s and '50s that stressed the absurdity of the modern condition: life's lack of meaning, alienation, illogic and the failure of communication. You may have read Ionesco's absurdist tragic farce The Chairs in an academic setting, but, if you're like me prior to this past weekend, you probably haven't seen it performed live.
Common Ground Theatre presents the play as part of its Small Series, simple stagings of classic one-acts that allow local actors to focus on bringing difficult texts to life without the worry of technical distractions. Here, husband-and-wife team Jeff Alguire and Rachel Klem take on the challenging roles of Old Man and Old Woman, two 90-year-olds who play frantic hosts to a large number of invisible guests, all of whom have come to hear Old Man's final message to the world.
Alguire and Klem give brilliant performances in this weird, funny and ultimately quite poignant piece. Their old age stage makeup is virtually unnecessary; both transform beautifully into their nonagenarian roles through physical and vocal choices. Indeed, The Chairs showcases Alguire and Klem's skills as physical performers—much of the play involves the characters running around welcoming and seating imaginary guests in their home, but the actors almost make you forget that there are no bodies in the chairs that eventually cover the stage.
Frenetically paced and accented by Shelby Hahn's haunting sound design, this jarring allegory about unfulfilled potential, the repetitiveness of life and how we derive meaning from existence will leave you pondering these questions—and the bizarre world of the play itself—long after Old Man and Old Woman have said their goodbyes.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Absurd unbelief."