Surprising production pumps life into classic ‘The Chairs’

Some may find Born and Raised Productions’ “The Chairs” boring because, in the tradition of Beckett and Brecht, it may appear repetitive and devoid of action. Purists may be bothered by the modern spin director Ruth Pe Palileo has given this revered 1952 Eugene Ionesco script. Or maybe, as I did, they will cheer the comic precision, circus atmosphere and energy that pumps new life into a museum piece.

When we first meet The Old Man (Erik Amblad) and The Old Woman (Mundana Ess-Haghabadi), they’re in white face, which allows us to distance ourselves from the material, to feel as if we’re watching actors playing actors.

He’s dressed in ancient white-tails and top hat, she’s in a once-lovely silvery petticoat that’s in emergency need of repair. They’re in a high tower surrounded by water. (The uncredited sound design suggests they’re in the middle of a melancholy ocean.)

They begin what seems an insane game of trying to accommodate a series of suddenly arriving guests. There’s lots of talk about what the old pair will be leaving behind after death, what the meaning of their existence will have been.

In the end, we find out about the likely meaning of the chairs, and they find out about their existence. None of it is pretty.

The director gives us light comedy in the beginning, frantic farce in the middle, and poignancy in the end. The flavor of the show keeps becoming richer.

Ess-Haghabadi commands the stage in a way that calls attention to her every move. She makes the lifting of an eyebrow a dramatic event. Her voice is raspy and girlishly coquettish. Nonetheless, you feel she’s been weighed down by a long life.

Amblad gives a technically superb performance, exact and well-vocalized. He does, though, tend to go overboard on faking mannerisms. His style of acting doesn’t always match up with Ess-Haghabadi’s, because even though she’s only suggesting a character, she goes way beyond mere mimicry.

We’ve had many excellent productions in town lately. But it’s especially pleasing when a classic appears out of nowhere in a tiny downtown theater space and is given justice.

“The Chairs” deserves an audience.

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at vegastheaterchat @aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.

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