nytheatre.com review by Robin Reed
August 15, 2004
As an artist participating in the FringeNYC Festival, you are forced to simplify. Big ideas need to be creatively and minimally executed or just plain cut out. Fifteen minutes to set up leaves no time to lug in heavy set or prop pieces.
The produers of The Chair have nailed minimalism in terms of their set—the corner platform cum “stage” of the Spotlight Lounge at Pace doesn’t really allow for much more than their titular seat. But author Malachy Walsh might have better served his play had he followed suit and simplified the unnecessary laden-down stories of the characters in his play.
The set-up is simple. Katherine, the slick lady boss who plays hardball in a man’s world, gives the fresh-faced and just-starting-out-in-Corporate-America Lauren a lesson in the school of hard knocks. In place of a mere $5000 raise, she offers to send her to a conference in San Diego on the company dime. Lauren, struggling, can’t seem to get through the point that she needs the cash more than the experience of corporate travel. Katherine stands smug and firm, taking on a "mother knows best" role. Lauren doesn’t have the experience or worldliness to stand up for herself.
This is where I got lost.
I wanted less back story and more present-moment conflict. Instead of offering up Katherine’s soft side (husband died young in a car accident, she never remarried or had babies) I wanted to see her conniving bitchiness come out. And I was never clear as to just what Lauren wanted to do: is this just her day job? Is she trying to climb the corporate ladder? Does she eventually want Katherine’s job? In her too-casual-for-the-office chinos and Birkenstocks, I thought no. But then why was she there? I saw no reason she shouldn’t have walked out the door a number of times as there was really no tension or reason for her to stay.
In an attempt to move the piece along, Olivia Honegger’s direction seems to treat this as more of a screenplay—quick blackouts as jump cuts, creating unnecessary transitions when the piece didn’t seem to be going anywhere.
Cecilia deWolf turns in a fine performance as Katherine, but ultimately The Chair would be a better fit in a scene study class than the Fringe.