The Chairs

by: Eugène Ionesco


Self-conscious theatricality

The Theatre of the Absurd is known for its innovative use of self-conscious dramatic techniques. In Ionesco's Rhinoceros, for example, a character recommends the plays of Ionesco. The Chairs is ripe for this, since the stage can be seen as another auditorium, filled with chairs for an audience. When the old man introduces himself before the message is to be delivered, and thanks everyone involved in the evening—the crowd, the Orator, the organizers, the construction workers, the technicians, and writers of the programs—it bears more than a passing resemblance to the way a playwright might thank everyone involved in a production of a play. The old man, especially, is much like a playwright; not only he has toiled over his "message," culled from his life and his philosophy, but he is a storyteller and an illusionist, crafting characters with his wife out of thin air. The Orator, then, would be an actor, someone who merely delivers the lines the man has written. "Merely" is an appropriate word, since The Chairs suggests that Ionesco does not think highly of actors. The failure of the garbled message may be Ionesco's charge that actors ruin his work, and that they do not understand it and render it unintelligible. On the other hand, the old man is a coward, not taking responsibility for many things, among them delivering his own message. The Orator's failure, then, may be a self-criticism of his inability to deliver the message on his own.