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Theater review: 'The Chairs' at City Garage

July 30, 2009 |  2:30 pm

City_Garage_Chairs__pic3 The married tramps of Ionesco’s “The Chairs” could be Charlie Chaplin and Paulette Goddard, a few decades after “Modern Times": hard-luck cases still trying to eke it out on moxie. In City Garage’s dynamic but uninvolving production, the shabby General Factotum (Bo Roberts) entertains his wife, Semiramis (Cynthia Mance), with tales of the past, while she reminds him of missed opportunities.

But all is about to change. After years of obscurity, the General will proclaim his worldview to an invited audience, his speech to be delivered by an acclaimed orator (Garth Whitten).

Charles Duncombe’s elegantly dilapidated set features a series of doors and windows standing in empty space — portals to nowhere. This 1952 absurdist classic doesn’t exactly skimp on metaphor and can feel like an extended acting exercise: Performers have to relate to a string of invisible party guests and convey the sense of drowning in a crowd.

Director Frederique Michel deftly choreographs the players’ manic party preparations, but the sense of mortality that pervades “The Chairs” never quite snowballs into the desperate euphoria it should. Mance and Roberts, possibly too vigorous to play a couple sliding into senescence, adroitly sketch a relationship kept alive through storytelling.

When they yield the floor to the orator, however, the rest is silence.

-- Charlotte Stoudt

The Chairs,” City Garage, 1340½ 4th St., Santa Monica. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 5:30 p.m. Sundays. Ends Sept. 13. $15-$25. (310) 319-9939. Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Photo: Bo Roberts and Cynthia Mance in "The Chairs." Credit: Paul Rubenstein