- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 20, 2005

That absurdist old saw, Eugene Ionesco’s 1952 play “The Chairs,” has been re-invigorated for a new generation of isolationists and depressives in a high-energy production at Round House’s Silver Spring theater under the direction of French director and set designer Alain Timar.

Mr. Timar’s original set concept — a sculptural backdrop that resembles a tidal wave of stacked chairs threatening to engulf the stage and the audience — has been expertly adapted to Round House’s space by N. Eric Knauss. This tsunami of chairs, and the sinister science-fiction special effect at the end of the play, is one of the high points of this production, which is full of sound, fury and nothingness.

The two characters, Man (Marcus Kyd) and Woman (Jessica Browne-White), have not been drained by the absence of hope, or company, or a God or king to worship. Quite the contrary. These two young punks rail against nothingness; it revs them up to a level of near-hysteria. They’re like baggy-pants comedians with a desperate agenda — the outcasts from “Waiting for Godot” on crystal meth; their constant pratfalls, mugging and role-playing stop them from slipping into the void. Aggressive motion — and the perpetual arranging and rearranging of chairs —keeps them going, keeps them alive. But from what are they saving themselves?

Mr. Ionesco originally conceived “The Chairs” with characters 95 and 94 years old. Think “On Golden Pond” for the euthanasia set. Mr. Timar has rejected this casting in favor of adding layers, in this case, casting young actors who goof their way into performing “The Chairs.” So what you witness is a play about a production of “The Chairs,” with the actors constantly breaking the fourth wall and addressing the audience members.

“Who are all these people?” the Woman asks, peering into the rows of theater seats, making some of the audience shift uncomfortably and pray for the anonymous darkness, although there were some people willing to shout out and play along with the antics.

Think of it this way: You want to say to the Woman, with all of us here, you are not so alone. Somehow, you get the feeling you are not supposed to think a lot in this production, rather, you are meant to bask in the crowing theatricality. Indeed, the turbo stamina of Miss Browne-White and Mr. Kyd is enviable and startling, as they seem capable of never exhausting their stores of inventiveness. Their array of gymnastics and clowning reminds you of an existential version of Cirque du Soleil.

When “The Chairs” premiered in 1952, audiences did not quite know what to make of it. More than half a century later, you feel sympathetic. Mr. Ionesco’s use of sparse, touchstone dialogue and comedic devices to explore the ridiculousness and futility of life were similar to that of other post-World War II playwrights who fell under the aegis of Theatre of the Absurd — Harold Pinter, Samuel Beckett, and Jean Genet. These plays rejected conventional theatrical forms in favor of mystery and eerie suggestion.

With “The Chairs,” the mysteriousness can be estranging. While the Round House production provokes visually, there is nothing to engage us beyond the iconic images. We are merely visual voyeurs, and after a while, our senses cry for mercy while our hearts and intellect go hungry.

**1/2

WHAT: “The Chairs” by Eugene Ionesco, English translation by Martin Crimp

WHERE: Round House Theatre Silver Spring, 8641 Colesville Road, Silver Spring

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Through Nov. 6.

TICKETS: $30 to $40

PHONE: 240/644-1100

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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