Saturday, 6 October 2001

Eugène Ionesco: The Chairs (1954)

Translation: Donald Watson, 1958
Edition: Penguin, 1962
Review number: 959

Two old people prepare an auditorium for a lecture. They welcome large numbers of invisible guests, holding conversations with several of them including the Emperor. Then, when the lecturer arrives, he turns out to be deaf and dumb, unable to communicate except by sign language and gibberish written on a blackboard.

The conversations between the old man and woman and their imaginary guests are reminiscent of Beckett. It has the world weariness, even if the wordplay is missing. It is not particularly funny on the page, unlike Rhinoceros and The Lesson, but could come alive on the stage.

As with Ionesco's other plays, the question is whether it is meaningful or not, and, if it is, what that meaning is. There are several possibilities for the play's theme, if it has one, and the key element is what Ionesco wants to convey with the invisible characters. They are not likely to be imaginary, only present of the minds of the two old people, because the lecturer appears and the fantasy would have to be consistently shared by both of them. The implication is that any meaning the play has is to do with the audience's perception of these people, or possibly about their nature as characters in the play.

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