Title: The Chairs
Writer: Eugene Ionesco
Setting: The play is set in a circular room with a precise number of doors and windows.
The Chairs was first produced by Sylvain Dhomme at the Theatre Lancry, 22 April 1952.
The Old Man, ninety-five years old.
The Old Woman, ninety-four years old.
The Orator, forty-five to fifty years old.
The Chairs is a one-act play by Eugene Ionesco. Ionesco was a major playwright of the Theatre of the Absurd. Other popular plays by him include: The Bald Soprano, Rhinoceros, and Exit the King. The Chairs tells the story of an old couple, named, simply, Old Man and Old Woman. They are both in their nineties and live in a strange house, comprising of numerous doors and windows. The house is surrounded on all sides by stagnant water. It seems like they are the last two people on earth. Their only real purpose for staying alive is to await the arrival of the Orator, who will recite the Old Man’s meaning of life. Throughout the play many invisible guests arrive at the house to witness the Orator’s speech. The old couple work tirelessly to meet, seat and converse with the ever-growing crowd, even the Emperor arrives. Eventually, when all the guests have arrived, the old couple commit suicide leaving the Orator to present the Old Man’s findings on the meaning of life. However, the Orator is deaf and mute and unable to relay the speech.
I’ve been lucky enough to have seen The Bald Soprano and Rhinoceros in performance, they were both produced by Sligo based Blue Rain Coat theatre company. The Chairs is a difficult play to read due to the strict mapping of the characters’ movements in the text and also the fact that you have to follow the locations of the imaginary characters. The play flicks between moments of hilarity and sadness. There are times when you feel like Ionesco’s use of imaginary characters is genius and at other times he seems to be ridiculing you as an audience member. The Chairs is a one-act play, but feels about ten minutes too long. I would like to see a production of it, as the actual staging is a huge part of how you make sense of the piece.
It’s a play that would suit a theatre company that is interested in producing more experimental, or Absurdist theatre. It has a cast of three and a very specific set design is required. Not an easy play to produce, certainly a challenge.
See the full list of my A Play A Day series here
If you like it, share it!