By Edward Bond. Dir. Robert Woodruff. Theatre for a New Audience at the Duke Theatre. (CLOSED)
Apart from Time Out's David Cote, who raved about the show without qualification, critical reaction to this dystopian fable by self-proclaimed "extremist" playwright Edward Bond varies from chilled to chilly. Even most who admire Bond's bleak vision, and director Robert Woodruff's unblinking adherence to it, admit that the play is a difficult sit. Some have kind words for, and some quibble with, the lead performances of Stephanie Roth Haberle and Will Rogers, with dissenters, led by the Times' Ishwerwood, finding the play's targets too general and abstract.
Time Out NY A
(David Cote) Bond’s quandary is both devilishly simple and philosophically complex: Faced with the power of the state, will we—can we—do the right thing?...Bond’s bleak but energizing vision is perfectly realized by master director Robert Woodruff, whose cold, crisp stage pictures give each of the five scenes a mounting sense of dread and urgency. This Theatre for a New Audience production might be tagged medicine by some, but I’d prefer to call it inoculation for the future.
(Andy Propst) Begins with simple mysteriousness and rapidly accelerates to levels of truly thrilling tautness and disconcerting brutality...Robert Woodruff's graceful staging, which embellishes the final moments of Bond's script with terrific ambiguity...starts with a cool nervous simmer and builds intensely. Simultaneously, he's elicited two highly polished performances from his principal actors. Haberle's Alice is a tightly wound woman, who can display not only fierceness and a steely resolve, but also genuine maternal compassion. Rogers brings sensitivity to his well-crafted portrayal of Billy, never turning the young tics, twitches, and mercurialness to caricature.
(Marilyn Stasio) Robert Woodruff's superbly cast and flawlessly helmed production for Theater for a New Audience delivers the cautionary message in an artful, if chilling style that makes the skin-crawling cruelty no less easy to take. Funsters, cover your eyes before they bleed. Bond's excoriating attack on militaristic governments that control their citizens by ignoring human rights is almost unbearable to watch...Let other playwrights shriek about the state of the world. Bond does it in his own, far deadlier fashion.
Curtain Up A-
(Jenny Sandman) Robert Woodruff is the ideal director for Bond...Woodruff has a masterful way with dystopias. He allows Bond's vision of a society "in a permanent state of alert" to unfold in a slow and surprising way. We don't get a true sense of the characters' world or the stakes involved, until the last scenes, which is exactly as it should be...While I suggested a drink to fortify yourself for seeing Blasted, save that drink for after you see the equally depressing if not as horrific to watch Chair.
(Gwen Orel) Stylish, airless...Robert Woodruff's direction masterfully presents visual images and commands strong, precise performances from all. Rogers in particular brings tremendous heart to his physical and vocal choices. Bond's strong dialogue makes each scene taut and powerful. The play never lags, but that's partly because Bond keeps us guessing about what's going on, not just what will happen; it's a dramaturgical trick...In the end, Bond's attempt to encapsulate fear and resistance lacks the power of stories about Nazi Germany, Iraq, Rwanda, or Bosnia, which teach us far more about man's inhumanity to man than generic abstractions can. It's a bit like a Beckett-Pinter homage to Orwell without the novelistic detail.
(Pete Boisvert) Bond's theme here is the dehumanization of the individual by the state, and he pursues this theme with a steadfast resolve...A truly bleak theatrical experience...Director and longtime Bond collaborator Robert Woodruff keeps the tone of the play cool and distant throughout. Featuring a brutally minimalist set designed by David Zinn, the stage is stripped down to appear almost naked...The horror of Chair doesn't come in spurts of blood or passionate emotion. Rather, the dread imbued in the audience is a barren and empty one. In a play where kindness is a capital offense, our connection to humanity is the first casualty.
The New York Times B-
(Charles Isherwood) Both weightless and ponderous, its vision of a society in which human sympathy and connection are virtually criminalized reeks of obvious cautionary meaning. But the ideas behind it feel generic, and the situations never quite ring true. The cryptic, often incomprehensible behavior of even the sympathetic characters keeps us from being either disturbed or engaged. To cite just one example, we never learn why — or even how — Alice has kept Billy infantilized for so many years. The actors supply solid work, although Ms. Haberle’s shriveled, anxious Alice could use an ounce or two of warmth. As the whiny Billy, Mr. Rogers is suitably antsy, irritable and irritating.
(William Coyle) Another playwright might view the future as utopian, glittering. For Edward Bond it’s all pretty much downhill; Chair is a singular vision of depravity, poverty, inhumanity and authoritarianism...Billy is a likeable guy but he gets annoying after a while. Think of a much tenser version of “Simon,” Mike Myers’ famous Saturday Night Live character...Both Ms. Haberle as Alice and Alfredo Narciso as the Soldier tend to overact their roles. David Zinn’s forceful scenic design is appropriately spare and antiseptic—cold. When Alice draws the curtains and allows the sun to slice through the grayness, it is both welcome and overpowering; this is a play of extremes.
Village Voice C+
(Alexis Soloski) Chair has the air of a parable, rather like the stories Alice's foster son, Billy (Will Rogers, with tremulous voice and wobbly legs), invents to console himself...But Bond apparently means the play less as a fable and more as a call to arms...The formulaic nature of the script, Woodruff's rather rigid production, and David Zinn's simple, bare set (beautifully lit by Mark Barton) don't, however, foment revolution. Nor do the actors' fastidious but rather mannered performances. This play anesthetizes as much as it terrifies.
TONY A 13; TheaterMania A 13; Variety A- 12; Curtain Up A- 12; Backstage B+ 11; Nytheatre B 10; NYTimes B- 9; Offoffonline B- 9; Village Voice C+ 8; TOTAL: 97/9=10.78 (B+)