COURTESY PHOTOOdd couple: David Sinaiko and Tamar Cohn are superb in Cutting Ball Theater’s “The Chairs

COURTESY PHOTOOdd couple: David Sinaiko and Tamar Cohn are superb in Cutting Ball Theater’s “The Chairs

Cutting Ball’s ‘Chairs’ a new absurdist classic

Cutting Ball Theater’s current staging of mid-20th-century French playwright Eugene Ionesco’s “The Chairs” is probably one of the best theater of the absurd productions to be seen locally — ever.

 The almost-entirely-two-character tragic farce, or farcical tragedy, is blessed with numerous advantages: A new translation by artistic director Rob Melrose, who turned some of Ionesco’s nonsensical French wordplay into equally nonsensical English-language wordplay.

 Carefully paced direction by Annie Elias, who not only borrows physical comedy tropes from the masters ) Buster Keaton, the Marx Brothers, et al. — and makes them work beautifully but also draws out the deep melancholy and the human despair in the script without ever losing those comic elements.

Theodore J.H. Hulsker’s subtle sound design that sometimes seems to be transmitted faintly from another world.
And the brilliant, nuanced performances of David Sinaiko and Tamar Cohn in the central roles (as well as Derek Fischer’s clever cameo in a smaller role).
 The hauntingly surreal scenario plays out on designer Michael Locher’s fraying living room set with its grimy wallpaper and wide windows looking out into the abyss; the aged couple lives, isolated, on an island.
Sinaiko’s bearded Old Man, in thigh-high wading boots and a fedora, is about to impart his final message, one that will justify his entire, fruitless existence. To that end, he has invited a huge crowd, and, considering himself inarticulate, has hired an orator to deliver the speech.
His wife, whom he affectionately calls “Poopsie” (she calls him “my lamb”) and sometimes thinks of as his Mommy, sighs over her husband’s wasted potential and reassures him, “The universe is waiting for you.” Decked out in a fur coat, purple stockings, a ridiculous little-girl dress and a bandana (excellent costumes by Sarah Roland), Cohn is sublimely focused. Her every grimace, pout and smile conveys oceans of yearning.
As the imaginary audience files in, requiring the Old Lady to stagger about with an endless supply of chairs (one of the most hilarious among many perfectly executed comic scenes), you can almost visualize what each invisible guest looks like, and feel the press of the crowd, the heat, the old couple’s increasing panic — that’s just how good the actors are, and that’s just how well Elias has staged the piece.
Only one quibble: If only Melrose had trimmed some of the more repetitious scenes. At more about 1 1/2 hours, the play feels too long.
The Chairs
Presented by Cutting Ball Theater
Where: Exit on Taylor, 277 Taylor St., S.F. 
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays; closes March 31 
Tickets: $10 to $50
Contact: (415) 525-1205,



artsCutting Ball TheaterentertainmentRob Melrose

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at

Just Posted

Nicole Canedo looks at her City-issued Medical Reimbursement Account page on her computer outside her Berkeley apartment on Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020. Canedo has worked numerous retail jobs in The City and the MRA has helped her with health costs. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Millions left sitting in medical reimbursement accounts by city workers

Health officials looking at how to improve access, outreach as untapped funds reach $409M

49ers receiver Deebo Samuel picks up yards in front of the Rams defense after a reception in the 4th quarter at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood Sunday. (Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)
Rams can’t stop 49ers’ Deebo Samuel from catching defense off guard

Emmanuel Morgan Los Angeles Times Perhaps the Rams didn’t watch enough film.… Continue reading

Dr. Grant Colfax, director of the San Francisco Department of Public Health. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
SF moves into purple tier, triggering curfew and business shutdowns

San Francisco moved into the state’s purple COVID-19 tier Saturday, requiring The… Continue reading

Indecline, an art activist collective in San Francisco, transformed a billboard into an editorial with a message blasting immigration policies of Donald Trump’s administration. (Screenshot, Indecline website)
Has immigration fallen off the administration’s radar? Not a chance

Enforced as executive orders, Trump’s hardline policies are proceeding, against will of the people

University of San Francisco head coach Todd Golden coaches his team on defense during a 2019 gameat War Memorial Gymnasium on the campus of the University of San Francisco. (Ryan Gorcey / S.F. Examiner)
Stunner in Bubbleville: USF upsets fourth-ranked Virginia

Less than 48 hours removed from a loss to a feeble UMass… Continue reading

Most Read