Friday, November 12
The Non-Absurdity of The Chairs
Wonderfully, tragically, hauntingly beautiful. And that’s not bad for the self-proclaimed absurd. Absurdism doesn’t (have to, anyway) mean nihilism or frivolity, it does imply a certain pessimism –the central premise, after all, is that life is absurd, which is something of a bummer.
In David Gordon’s adaptation of The Chairs, absurdity is a force to be reckoned with, but not an incontrovertible truth. The two characters, Cookie and Pussycat - and the actors themselves - defy the absurd in this performance. They wrestle with it, fight back. They struggle to invest the silly, stultifying language (literally handed to Pussycat on paper to rattle off) with feeling, if not meaning; to preserve, in the wash of the play’s absurd action, the dignity of their love for each other – that’s right, you dry old Francophiliac existentialists, love - which is, inexplicably, magically, real.
This struggle itself becomes the real plot. “There’s still hope,” says Cookie early in the play. The words seem so vague, so meaningless; but taken at face value, they suddenly give the play a shape. For what is there still hope? For anything, for hope itself. Armed only with these words, blunt instruments indeed, Cookie and Pussycat become our heroes in pursuit of this hope, they become our own hope against the “cold, dark drain,” as Cookie puts it.
Unlike the exhausting stasis of Waiting for Godot, this play is moving, faster than we realize. As the blather of words - and the inevitable chairs - accumulate, so does our understanding grow of the profound way in which the pair change these words to help each other – they sing them, murmur them, sob them, repeat them and repeat them.
The pair is so effective, are so obviously the victors in the struggle between absurdity and meaning, that the more visible agents of absurdity – the stagehands rushing about willy-nilly with giant words – seemed unnecessary, almost trite. Similarly the inarticulate spokespeople at the end feel gratuitous. They seemed anachronistic, vestiges of a play far more bitter, cynical, dry, and dreary than this one, which almost bled with feeling.
Which leads me to wonder if the strength of this adaptation isn’t such that it has broken the original play, or perhaps broken free of it. As the couple are slowly, and then so quickly, torn apart from each other, it isn’t with our intellects that we in the crowd react, but with our stomachs, with our guts and hearts. The play causes me not to ponder the futility of language but instead to wonder, ‘My God can life really be this amazingly, shockingly beautiful? Is this really happening?”
And the best part is yes, it is. As the play draws to its conclusion, the audience shares in a single, drawn-out wrenching of our hearts, which many of us, I’m sure, were pleasantly surprised to find could still be wrenched. The ending (not the spokespeople, the real one) was sublime – to say more than that would be . . . absurd.
I had high expectations...
I had high expectations of this performance as I'm a huge fan of Ionesco and of The Chairs. I was a little worried at the beginning because I frankly didn't like the film of past dance pieces based on the folding chair. This feeling played out later, when the Old Man character, began to use the chair in similar ways that it was used in the dance pieces. It just seemed out of place in the current performance.
By far, the highlight of this show was, for me, Valda as the Old Woman. From the precision and history reflected in her knitting, to the way she sexually came on to the imaginary guest, I felt that every moment of her performance was stunning. The mixture of recrimination and praise that came from the woman to the man was handled very well. She touched me in a very deep way.
I was less impressed with David Gordon's work as the Old Man. I couldn't buy into his character...I'm not sure why...maybe because he was not as confident with his lines, (was he reading his lines onstage?) but also that I didn't feel that he captured the age and depth of experience that was necessary for the role.
The Ninja chair people were interesting and I did like the way that the set and props were manipulated, I actually enjoyed the characters quite a bit and began to see them as the neurons firing in the brains of the old people, I especially liked how they seemed to keep order in the piece and yet were responsible for the falling apart of the structure later on as well. I liked the spokesman characters, but hated that they indicated words at the end of the piece, even if they were non-sensical words, I believe it was against Ionesco's intent.
Overall the piece was well done and was actually a very emotional experience for me personally as my aging parents recently visited and I left the performance wondering about them and their aloneness. I thought a lot about how old age isolates and felt a burning need to call my parents and let them know that I love them. I was especially affected by the light shift two thirds of the way through the play when they were isolated from each other and trying to reconnect. Much of the performance was very moving.
Thursday, November 11
Have a Seat
My grandfather would always tell us the same stories over and over again. His stories never wavered in delivery or content. He always told them with the same degree of enthusiasm and bravado.
There was the one about watching Lindbergh fly over the newspaper building where he was a copy boy. And the one where my grandmother calmly peppered the water moccasin in the family swimming hole with a nine-gauge shotgun. And he never failed to chortle and snort-laugh when he told the one about meeting Mae West on the tarmac at the Philadelphia airport.
Watching David Gordon and Valda Setterfield last night in The Chairs reminded me of Pop’s fondness for telling and retelling those stories, and of the infinite patience my grandmother and the rest of us all had for being his willing audience.
I found this production to be a lovely meditation on aging, about how all the things, regrets, memories, events in one’s life crowd out everything else until there’s nothing really left but the telling. As the stories unfolded on stage last night, told and retold with relish and glee, there was physically less and less space, crowded out by chairs and messages. And in this case, within the complicated and thorny dynamics of a long, long marriage, a unique sweetness emerged. I could see where earlier productions of Ionesco’s play could easily be staged as angry and didactic, especially if no one really knew what to make of the play in the first place. I could see where the emphasis could be placed on the absurdity of it all rather than on the humanness.
I loved it when Gordon as Pussycat greeted phantom Beauty at the door – looking right at and through the audience. With a perfect balance of nostalgia and regret, as if greeting an old lover from long ago, he seemed genuinely touched at her decision to visit – even though it was he who conjured her up. That tender moment was perfectly countered by Cookie’s delightfully outrageous antics in the ensuing jealousy scenes.
But what was distinctly more powerful was point where they couldn’t find each other and while their characters searched and searched in vain, their shadows fused on the wall. Then at the very end, much to their surprise, they end up separated instead of together and after hearing all he has to say, the spokespeople are left uncommunicative. This production seems to accommodate the play’s intended ending into its overall sense of sweetness and whimsy, with a sense of wry acceptance of ironic turn instead of sardonic bleakness.
It takes a tremendous amount of courage to ask oneself “what is the point?” especially when over the course of one’s lifetime one has witnessed the repeated triumph of corporate greed over the pursuit of the greater good. It’s terrifying to realize that there might not be left one mark, one atom changed after one dies. And that all one really has is the recounting of the experience and hopefully to a willing audience.
SUMMARY: An old guy with glasses like Robert DeNiro had at the end of Casino and an old woman with a kind of layered look like a homeless person set up chairs for guests at an imaginary party. The chairs are handed to them by some sort of ninja janitors through moving doorframes on wheels.
I was asked to write about this a couple of weeks ago. I said yes not thinking any more of it. Much like when one of my friends asks me if I am going to see his stupid band and I say, "Sure!", discouraging any further discussion after which I instantly forget the whole thing. Erin Jorgensen reminded me several times about my commitment over the last few weeks. "How many hours is it?", I asked, She said she did not know. An absurdist dance piece, was how it was described to me. Of course it is. It started out with a film on a screen of two people dancing sort of modern like with folding chairs and the guy had a huge mustache. This is pretty much what I expected and then the old guy and the old homeless like woman came out and started going on about something, I admit I wasn't paying strict attention at this point and I nodded slightly. But after about 10 minutes of the two establishing their relationship it began to get interesting and I was thinking of things while they were talking, But not things unrelated to the conversation, I was just reminded of events in my own life in the same context. The action got slightly heated and the old woman exposed her breast to an imaginary military figure to whom she had been making sexual advances. It made sense though as I was thinking just before that she was attractive in an old person crazy homeless way. I found myself becoming rather engrossed by this story that was evolving about a party, and when the man said that you are not supposed to bring kids to a party I agreed with him, kids really are a nuisance, I would be irritated as well if someone showed up dragging their ill behaved little cretins making inapproprate loud noises at a party clearly designed for adults. At this point the gathering seemed to mutate into a rally for the producer of something and it took on a political sheen. I have been depressed about almost everything since November 3rd and at this time is when I was most taken by this production. I consider myself a very literal person and I don't understand abstract concepts. I am frankly suspicious of those who claim to and I have been known to make fun of them. Unfortunately however, This is the same posture adopted by groups like the N.E.A. and the Republican party and Hitler. At the end I was ashamed of myself for wanting to hate this and I was greatly relieved that I enjoyed it. I didn't really get it but fuck it, we can't all be Joe Boling and besides it's absurdist anyway.
BACK to BLOG CENTRAL
About BLOG THE BOARDS
Who better to write about what happens at On the Boards than the people who support and attend our performances? Making art is part of a dialogue between artist and audience, and so we've created Blog the Boards...
About Our Bloggers
Thanks to our bloggers for The Chairs...
About "The Chairs"
A description David Gordon's take on Ionesco's classic absurdist play...
About David Gordon and the Pick-up Performance Company
David Gordon and the Pick Up Performance Company Overview...
David Gordon LINKS
awesome links to learn more about David Gordon and this production...