When the audience left the theater after Kitchen Dog Theater's The Chairs on opening night, its safe to assume reactions ranged from sighs of relief to exaggerated eyerolls to nervous laughter. When it's done right, Ionesco will do that to you.
Eugene Ionesco's classic example of French absurdist comedy is both a devastating look at life in all its existential meaningless and a hilarious comedy in which, if the actors and director of a production so desire, a couple of performers can act their hearts out.
Under TIM JOhnson's direction, Raphael Parry and Rhonda Boutte do just that.
In the one-act play, we watch Parry and Boutte as an aging married couple, living out what would appear to be some of their last years recalling half-real, half-imagined stories from their past.
They live in relative physical and emotional isolation, even from each other, and though little real plot exists, the action is pulled constantly forward to the culmination and climax at what I'll refer to as "the circus of the chairs."
Parry's pathetic character is a suitable foil for Boutte's seemingly bipolar matron as she perversely alternates between cruelty intended to incite, and a tenderness which in any other play would be psychologically incompatible.
Although details are not forthcoming, Boutte seems to resent Parry's lack of ambition while Parry absurdly insists he simply "isn't like everyone else. I have ideals." We've all heard that before have we not?
They argue, cry and fondly reminiscence before the mysterious Orator comes to assist Parry's husband in communicating his vision; a "vision," which will ostensibly change the world and show an audience of elites and intellectuals that he truly is an undiscovered genius.
As with everything else in Ionesco's absurd little universe, nothing ever turns out quite how you expect it to.
The chaotic, massively entertaining but altogether meaningless conclusion serves as Ionesco's pointed reminder that life is just an endless repetition of pointless situations. We may as well make the best of it.
Boutte and Parry's physical comedy and chemistry throughout the play is unbeatable. The two mesmerize in their intoxicating portrayal of two characters who are exaggerated to an extreme yet still manage to be sympathetic.
Under Johnson's direction and the masterful sets of Scott Osborne and lighting design of Suzanne Lavender, Kitchen Dog's black-box theater morphs into a filthy, neglected house on a deserted island, helmed by two miscreants pretending to be something more.
Unfortunately in Ionesco's world there is nothing more. Only the reality we create in our mind to help us cope with the meaninglessness. Boutte and Parry manage to make their existence appear bearable. That in and of itself is a feat.