Let me preface this review with admiration, three reasons to celebrate, and an admission. 1) There is a new, relatively speaking, theatre company in Ottawa called Third Wall Theatre . 2) In 2005, Third Wall was awarded the prize for best professional production of the year by the Capital Critics’ Circle, marking the first time in its history that a company outside the GCTC or the NAC had won the award. 3) Third Wall’s focus is on the great masterpieces of world theatre, a repetoire which in my opinion can never be performed often enough. Anyone who devotes their time and energy to the production and presentation of art, in any form, deserves admiration and support from the community at large. I therefore am not pleased with what I am about to have to say because I want to support the people behind Third Wall. Theatre of the Absurd, as I understand it, conveys the message that life has no meaning. It rejects logic, and is filled with empty speeches and silences. My sense is that it is presented not necessarily to be enjoyed, but rather to ellicit reflection, most often morbid and frustrated. It was experimental and groundbreaking, just as, I suppose, was Duchamp’s urinal. Becket did it better than anyone else, if it had to be done at all. I find theatre of the absurd boring (regardless of the fact that its defenders will say that this is its very intent) and as a result, difficult to review favourably even when production and performance values are superior. Third Wall’s presentation of Eugene Ionesco’s ‘The Chairs’ simply reafirms my distaste for this genre. Typically, whilst waiting for curtains to rise I like to read something about the play I am about to see. The program for this show contained no such information. If this was done on purpose then cudos are due, because it succeeded in causing frustration, just as the play is designed to do. If not, then it was an incompetent oversight. The set was a room lined with what appeared to be totem poles, interspersed with doors, and shuttered windows. Two step ladders, a blackboard and a small wooden lecturn were present in the room. The premise of the play has an elderly unfulfilled couple played by James Bradford and Beverley Wolfe ushering a group of invisible people into their home. The expectation is that they will listen to the old man’s important life message, delivered not by himself, which is typical of his life, but by a hired orator. Needless to say expectations are not met. The pale orator is dumb and cannot communicate. The couple exit their respective windows plunging, it is assumed, to watery deaths. Actors Bradford and Wolfe deliver their lines with confidence and, as far as I could tell, without flaw. The problem with both of their performances however was that neither conveyed with conviction the truth that they were communicating with those they had invited into their home. It is a difficult task to portray realistic conversation on stage at the best of times. When the people you are talking to happen to be invisible the task is made that much more challenging. These actors did not meet this challenge. They didn’t dialogue, they monologued. The most affecting moment in the play occured at the end when the lights dimmed over a stage full of expectant, empty chairs, and a hum drum Beatles tune played in the background. I was grateful to escape back to my real, miserable, meaningless life, somehow made less so in contrast to the hour and a half spent in the theatre. Uplifting in a way.
‘The Chairs’ runs at the Ottawa Arts Court until Saturday, April 1, 2006.