Playwright: Evan Smith
At: Writers' Theatre,
325 Tudor Court, Glencoe
Phone: ( 847 ) 242-6000; $45-$50
Runs through: Nov. 27
It's a rare and wonderful thing when you go the theater and every aspect of a production is in top form. That's the case with The Uneasy Chair, a thoroughly entertaining and wickedly smart comedy that already deserves to be extended. From Michael Halberstam's confident direction, with nary a wrong choice in sight, to Linda Buchanan's whimsical, evocative, and practical set design, to Rachel Anne Healy's delightful, character-defining costumes, to some of the finest performances you'll ever see on a Chicago stage ( wait, make that anywhere ) , The Uneasy Chair is one show that I can't find one thing with which to quibble. Poor me. Lucky me.
The Uneasy Chair is playwright Evan Smith's dark, absurdly funny period piece that looks, with a cynic's eye, at the ties that bind us to one another, especially in the realm of that hallowed institution: marriage. It all begins when Captain Josiah Wickett ( a memorably crusty Greg Vinkler, who mines even the smallest mumble for comic gold ) arrives at the very cozy and very proper boardinghouse of Miss Amanda Pickles ( Linda Kimbrough, whose performance is simply astounding in its artistry and polish ) , a woman in her 'late youth' who has lived without the comfort of romantic entanglement for almost all of her life. Since this is 1880s London, the pair dance around propriety and mutual attraction in their first meeting, where cost of the room is negotiated, and set the stage for all future interaction ( and irresistible one-upmanship ) . The story kicks into gear when Miss Pickles introduces her niece, Alexandrina ( an assured Molly Glynn ) , who is on the 'wrong side of 25,' to the Captain's nephew John Darlington ( John Sanders, appropriately tentative and transparently un-self-assured ) . This matchmaking ploy results, as one might guess, in all sorts of misinterpretations, especially during a heavy flow of correspondence, resulting in the Captain thinking that Miss Pickles' niece will welcome a marriage proposal from his nephew, while the niece herself has the idea that the one who would welcome a marriage proposal is her aunt, from the Captain. When the mistaken assumptions come to light, a bitter and disappointed Amelia Pickles takes the Captain to court for 'breach of promise.' I won't go any further in how this comedy of manners that seems as if it could have been written by a contemporary of Jane Austen, but filtered through the modern sensibilities of Edward Albee, turns out. It's enough to say that it's remarkably consistent, hilarious, and blisteringly, bitingly cynical. Laugh through clenched teeth.
I would be remiss if I didn't point out one element of The Uneasy Chair that added immeasurably to its glow: the performances of Ross Lehman. Lehman tackles multiple character roles, both male and female, and shines in each of them. If his thespian counterparts weren't so outstanding, I'd be tempted to say he steals every scene he's in.
The Uneasy Chair is one of those productions I have to saddle with the hackneyed descriptor: 'must see.' But you must, you simply must. There's nothing hackneyed about it.