KPBS AIRDATE: JUNE 29, 2001
There’s Theater of the Absurd and there’s theater that is absurd. Choose your poison. Sledgehammer Theatre offers us “The Chairs,” and Diversionary is throwing a “Psycho Beach Party.” Normally, I’d go for the classic……But for fun and laughs and great performances, I’d definitely opt for the crazy spoof over the ponderous metaphor.
French-Romanian playwright Eugene Ionesco is often considered the father of Theater of the Absurd, that surreal existentialism of the mid-20th century. He called “The Chairs” a tragic farce. It premiered in 1952, but languished in recent years. In 1998, the play was revivified in a quirkily humorous British production that knocked Broadway’s socks off. So I was anxious to see a Sledgehammer airing of the dusty piece, directed by the promising young Jonathan Silverstein. Alas, the production is neither as bleak as the original nor as raucously vaudeville or poignant as the revival. In short, disappointingly, this “Chairs” brings nothing new to the table.
In the piece, a lonely Old Man and Old Woman try to justify their long life of failures and humiliations by organizing a big reception, where an Orator will convey the Man’s crucial life message, one he’s sure will save humanity. As the couple frantically fills the stage with chairs, only they can see the innumerable arriving guests. Unfortunately, Daoud Heidami, who is far too young for the role, and Dana Hooley, who is older and broader and funnier, don’t makes us see those guests. And since they don’t engage us here, or in their wildly mismatched portrayals or their reminiscences, we don’t really care when they ultimately jump out the window, or when the enigmatic Orator can’t communicate. There are no star-turns here, no riotous or touching moments. Let’s just say it’s a very long 80 minutes. According to the playwright, the theme of the play is nothingness, but I’m not sure this is precisely what he had in mind.
Now, if you want to just laugh yourself silly, grab your favorite bathing beauty and bop over to “Psycho Beach Party,” Charles Busch’s frenzied sendup of mid-century movies. Think, Gidget and Sybil meet Mommie Dearest. All cross-dressed, of course.
The performances are uproarious. David McBean is adorable as Chicklet, the wannabe surfer, and when she transmutes into multiple personalities, McBean flashes his wide dramatic range. Michael Hummel is a scream as a Joan Crawford mother-from-hell, Thomas Fitzpatrick is comical as a closeted gay surfer dude, and Jessica Drizd is terrific as Chicklet’s nerdy egghead friend Berdine. Director Scott Viets aptly pulls out all the stops, and even brings musical mayhem to the proceedings, with lip-synched numbers that are nothing short of hysterical. Now, this is summer fun.
©2001 Patté Productions Inc.