Today’s Wall Street Journal drama column was filed from south Florida, where I just saw two exceptional shows, Palm Beach Dramaworks’ revival of Eugène Ionesco’s The Chairs and GableStage’s production of Adding Machine. Here’s an excerpt.
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To see “The Chairs,” Eugène Ionesco’s surreal parable about the apparent meaninglessness of life, in Palm Beach, a city dedicated to the pursuit of pleasure, is an experience I recommend to anyone with a well-developed taste for cognitive dissonance. But that’s not the only reason, much less the best one, to see Palm Beach Dramaworks’ production of Ionesco’s 1952 play. It is, in fact, a close-to-ideal piece of work, vibrantly staged by J. Barry Lewis and acted with colossal gusto by Barbara Bradshaw, Dan Leonard and Shel Shanak in a set designed by Michael Amico that looks like a long-abandoned waterfront warehouse….
Ionesco and Samuel Beckett came to prominence at the same time and wrote in the same grimly funny vein, but Beckett’s plays are now performed more often. Yet I find “The Chairs” to be far more theatrically effective than Beckett’s “Endgame” and “Happy Days,” both of which appear to have been inspired by Ionesco’s example but are too rigidly schematic in their symbolism to profit from frequent viewing. Not so “The Chairs,” whose zesty, near-vaudevillian comic turns enliven a vision of man’s fate that might otherwise be paralyzingly dark–especially when you see it in the Sunshine State….
I had my doubts about the Off-Broadway production of “Adding Machine,” the Jason Loewith-Joshua Schmidt musical adaptation of Elmer Rice’s 1923 play about a murderous bookkeeper, but that didn’t stop me from being impressed by its glittering craft and arrogant self-assurance. Since then I’ve been eagerly awaiting a second chance to see “Adding Machine,” and now GableStage has provided it. This is the show’s first regional-theater production since its Chicago premiere, and while I still have a few lingering doubts about it, I can now testify to its staying power: It’s even more thought-provoking the second time around….
GableStage’s production, staged by Joseph Adler, the company’s artistic director, is highly impressive but noticeably different in tone from the Chicago-to-Off-Broadway transfer of “Adding Machine.” The earlier version, directed by David Cromer, was deliberately, at times off-puttingly chilly, emphasizing the show’s brilliance at the occasional expense of its humanity. Mr. Adler and his fine cast, by contrast, have softened the edges of “Adding Machine,” treating the characters less as symbols than as flesh-and-blood creatures who are cartoonish but still recognizably human….
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Read the whole thing here.