Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

October 17, 2021

REVIEW: Shakespeare and Company, The Chairs

Shakespeare and Company, Lenox, MA
through October 31, 2021
by Jarice Hanson
Photo by Daniel Rader
In his program Director’s Note, James Warwick compares Ionesco’s “absurd tragic farce” to life in general, since Covid. How right he is! 
Upon entering the lobby of the Tina Packer Playhouse, patrons are greeted with lively circus music which then carries them into the playhouse and provides the perfect immersion into the world of the “Old Man” played by Malcolm Ingram, and the “Old Woman” played by Barbara Sims. The two have been living as the custodians of a lighthouse for many years, and have developed a pattern of amusing each other with imaginary guests and conversations they make up in their heads.
Ingram and Sims work together like a well-oiled machine and the circus metaphor is liberally used throughout the 65 minute play. When the couple start bringing out chairs for imaginary guests, the choreography is like watching clowns in a circus disappear behind a set, only to emerge from another door with either a wheelbarrow or a baby carriage to establish a stage fully set for their “future” guests. When Ingram sings “Forty-seven Ginger Headed Sailors” while accompanying himself on a ukulele, Sims dances along—making the duet all the funnier with her physical interpretation of the music. They create a dynamic duo, complementing each other’s style and tone, and making it impossible not to be charmed by their high energy comical interaction.   
Charlotte Palmer-Lane’s wonderful costumes and John Musall’s elaborate multi-doored set continue the circus theme established by Amy Altadonna’s exceptional music choices, and James Warwick’s direction creates a seamless production of entertainment that emphasizes comedy rather than tragedy. The situation of the two old people alone, isolated from others and feeling cut off from the rest of the world, has now become a familiar feeling for many, but their spirit and silliness give us hope. 
How wonderful it is to find joy in an art form that has traditionally been called “absurd,” and how appropriate it is for Shakespeare and Company to revisit a classic of absurdist theater and find the humanity and joy in the work. As Warwick concludes in his Director’s Note, “Please join us, not in despair, but in the liberation of tears of laughter.”
Watching these fine actors and seeing the benefit of meticulously staged production craft, the audience is left with a feeling of buoyancy and hope, proving that even in absurd times, theater can help us connect to a broader world of art and human connection.