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The Chairs, Court Theatre. Every Ionesco play is chilling on some level, but none more so than The Chairs (1951). It works like Waiting for Godot with a twist: nothing happens, but with the creeping sense that it's about to stop happening, that some conclusion is actually approaching. Then, terrifyingly, Godot shows up. The elaborate shared delusions that precede this moment and the climax that follows form a bleak puzzle, posing life as a question that can't be articulated, whose answer is obvious but unknowable.

Court's mounting of this absurdist classic doesn't miss a beat. Martin Platt's direction is deliberate and focused, emphasizing the air of inevitability that suffuses the addled end-of-the-line dialogue. And while his treatment of exhausting monotony is irreproachable, even better is his touch for "action": the eponymous set piece is a triumph of desperate slapstick, and the finale is electric from the arrival of the ominous "orator" (the excellent Brendan Averett) onward. Hollis Resnik and Jeff Still as the old couple preparing for death give touchingly comic performances, and Geoffrey Curley's monolithic, monochromatic red set is both forbidding and forlorn, embellished with savagely whimsical details. Together these elements evoke penultimate stillness, making Ionesco's hollow train wreck of a conclusion all the more resounding. In its ambiguity, it admits innumerable dramatic approaches and interpretations--but I'm hard put to imagine one more inventive and affecting than Court's apocalyptic piece of stagecraft.

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