Theater review: ‘The Chairs’ at A Noise Within

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If you want to drive yourself a bit mad, try this exercise. Apply the “Five Ws” of journalism to “The Chairs,” Eugene Ionesco’s 1952 absurdist farce, now at A Noise Within.

It’s easy enough to answer “Where?” –- in this case, a dilapidated grand salon completely surrounded by water, eerily realized by designer Stephen W. Gifford and sound designer Andrew Villaverde. Ken Booth’s minatory lighting indicates this is no Mediterranean isle but a bleak, possibly post-apocalyptic landscape.

In answer to “Who,” the characters are an ancient married couple whose tatterdemalion costumes (courtesy of costume designer Angela Balogh Calin) evoke an elegance long decayed. A Noise Within’s co-founder Geoff Elliott and long-time company member Deborah Strang play the derelict twosome in Julia Rodriguez-Elliott’s sensitively comical staging.

“When,” “Why” and “What” are more difficult. This addled pair’s grasp of chronology is, well, absurd. As for “Why,” that’s also a matter of interpretation. And if you think you can suss out “What” these geriatric buffoons are doing in this fix, please share.


The core premise is essentially a vaudeville gag. As the elderly duo welcome an onslaught of unseen visitors, they frenetically drag chairs onto the set in an effort to accommodate their invisible -– but possibly not imaginary -– guests.

Again, just why are these guests here? It seems they have come to hear the Old Man’s solution to all the world’s ills. But, entrusting his message to the final, only visible visitor, the Orator (Andy Stokan) is the most cosmic joke of all –- Ionesco’s risible reminder of life’s essential futility.

It’s true that Ionesco sometimes overdoes his existential shtick and certain passages are reiterative to a fault. Fortunately, Rodriguez-Elliott’s farcical romp has an undercurrent of emotional acuity that transcends mere burlesque. As for Strang and Elliott, both formidable, they throw themselves into their characters like sad clowns at a funeral, evoking equal measures of laughter and discomfort.

-- F. Kathleen Foley

“The Chairs,” A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale. Runs in repertory; see for schedule. Ends May 14. $42-$46. (818) 240-0910, Ext. 1. Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes.