Word Plays

Works by two masters of verbal gymnastics receive entertaining treatments this week in St. Louis

Though On the Razzle borrows elements from the theater of the absurd, Stoppard's work is a postmodern fusion of literary allusion, conventional (to a point) plotting and ever-accelerating raillery. If you want to have a look at an original inspiration, go see City Players' production of Ionesco's The Chairs. The two oldsters at the center of this one-act have language aplenty at their disposal yet wait for an Orator to speak to the audience -- a pause that lasts for nearly the entire play. Imagine that you finally do wait long enough for Godot, and he turns out to be a deaf-mute (winningly played by Mark Moloney). No, I'm not giving anything away to tell you that.

The Old Man (Christopher Limber) and Old Woman (Pamela Christian) have been married for 75 years -- so long, the Old Man explains, that "when we were young, the moon was a living star." The Chairs concerns their plans to host a lecture -- they set up chairs and welcome guests (all imaginary) to their "island home." In they troop, in our mind's eye -- a lady, a photoengraver, journalists, a colonel -- all carefully described by Ionesco in his stage directions but never to be seen by a living audience member. By the conclusion of the play, the stage should be littered with chairs, and one should feel that the stage is bursting with personalities.

Now, if you've ever spent time in a nursing-home dayroom, you've experienced unscripted theater of the absurd. Someone in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease will spontaneously utter word salad that defies logic but has a poetic grace all its own. The Old Man and Woman were revolutionary in their day, a half-century earlier. Yet what do Ionesco's friendly japes at existentialism, Paris as the center of the universe and knee-jerk fealty to royalty mean to us today? Are we meant to see this pair as sadly deluded because they think they need a third party to "tell their story"? Do their comments about aging have more significance in an era of prolonged life expectancy? Or is it just, like, absurd?

The St. Louis Shakespeare Company's On the Razzle is a dazzle and a delight.
The St. Louis Shakespeare Company's On the Razzle is a dazzle and a delight.


On the Razzle
By Tom Stoppard
St. Louis Shakespeare Company

The Chairs
By Eugene Ionesco
City Players of St. Louis

This production is staged at the Crossroads School's black box of a theater, with a small central playing space and chairs (for the real audience) on three sides. There are some smart touches here, and fine sound design by Michele Dvorak, who provides glockenspiel effects to accent scenes. Yet one wishes director Julie Krieckhaus had been able to rein in her principals. Limber and Christian are supposed to be playing nonagenarians and then -- as the imaginary audience enters -- become more and more youthful and invigorated, or at least that's how I read the play. These two come on like gangbusters, which means there isn't anyplace to go when the madness of the guests arriving crescendoes. But they are mesmerizing (which is good, because in so small a space, there aren't many other places to look), and their affection for each other seems genuine. Christian is a limber actor, whereas Limber is -- well, let's move on and just say that Ionesco would undoubtedly salute the company for playing as if the house were full to bursting.

Both On the Razzle and The Chairs continue through Aug. 13.

« Previous Page