“After the Chairs” at the Fresh Fruit Festival at the Wild Project (Closed July 14, 2013)

By David Koteles
Directed by Jason Jacobs
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

All goes extremely well in David Koteles’ “After the Chairs” – his inventive reimagining/retelling of Ianesco’s “The Chairs” – until the otherwise well constructed play’s end. Marc (Allen Warnock) and his partner Richard (Don Cummings) are unique re-tellings of Ianesco’s Old Man and Old Woman. Here the couple is trapped in an absurdist cycle of caregiver-patient conversation that serves as an extended metaphor for the madness and meaningless of life outside the hospital room as well. The couple, for example, looks out the window at the decay of autumn which counterpoints the decay of Marc’s disease-ridden body and soul.

Marc is determined to give the performance of his life (he admits to abandoning his dream of the stage for the money of the workplace) and he and Richard wonder “who will visit them.” Marc intends to perform “a one-man show” featuring “the highlights of his life.” Amidst their banter, the invisible guests begin to arrive and Richard scurries to fill the hospital room with chairs to accommodate the guests – all somehow related to Marc.

The audience “meets” Karen Marc’s first girlfriend; Charles Marc’s first boyfriend; Elizabeth the first person Marc came out to; Marc’s sister Pam; Marc’s drag queen friend Kevin (Terri-Yaki) and his cohort of drag queens; and Marc’s boss Bob and his boss. The conversation with these non-existent guests continues the theme of meaninglessness and absurdity: Karen can neither hear nor see; Pam is only worried about the gathering dissolving into a gay orgy; and Charles dissolves into life-threatening laughter when anyone mentions a musical he has not seen.

Marc’s performance, including his recounting the story of his relationship with his now-deceased mother parallels the story of his current life. He wanders about the room (stage) uttering nonsense words and phrases: “XYZ, XY, XYZ) which lead to the significant question he asks: “Why?” Marc’s performance is interrupted by the anticipated arrival of his friend David (Chris Van Strander) who will complete Marc’s performance. Here is where the problems begin. In a matter of a few minutes, Marc disconnects himself from his IV (commits suicide?), his bed becomes his bier, and David delivers a five-second eulogy for Marc as Richard sits sobbing in the last row of chairs. Ianesco felt the end of “The Chairs” was the most important part of the play, leaving the Couple and the audience pondering the phrase, “It’s you who are responsible.” The end of “After the Chairs” seems to lack any importance.

How responsible are we for the world’s dysfunction? What precisely is the world’s dysfunction? Allen Warnock and Don Cummings give honest and endearing performances in “After the Chairs” and, under Jason Jacob’s fluid direction, convey a sense of loss and ennui that certainly pervades the twenty-first century. Unfortunately, the ending of the play does not serve the rest of the script. To feel meaninglessness is one thing; for the end to be meaningless is quite another. Despite this one puzzling flaw, “After the Chairs” ought to be on your calendar for July 13th and 14th.