The Uneasy Chair is a social satire directed at the British class system and its idiosyncrasies. Five actors transport the audience into an antiquated world of spinsters, drawing room repartee, and ornate verbosity-but one that reflects a modern sensibility all the same.
The plot, involving a desperate old maid and her lodger, is somewhat familiar. When Miss Amelia Pickles (Lynne Griffin) rents out a room in her stylish London manor to the stoical Captain Josiah Wickett (played superbly by Michael Rothhaar), he finds himself in an uneasy chair of “coolness and intimacy” with his landlady. A plot twist ensues shortly: The Captain’s nephew, Mr. Darlington (Jason Chanos), and Miss Pickles’s beautiful and highly sought-after niece, Alexandrina (Kim Swennen), are invited to tea at Miss Pickles’s home in a matchmaking scheme. What follows is a series of comical misunderstandings based on the discreet, polite language typical of euphemistic Victorian culture.
Not for a moment are the viewers out of touch with this language, however. From the outset, these characters address the audience, breaking the so-called “fourth wall.” Such asides provide insight into the characters’ inner thoughts and reveal their hypocrisies. “Are we not admonished to love our enemies?” asks Capt. Wickett, speaking of his agonizing decision to marry Miss Pickles, who has been awarded a generous settlement for his breach-of-promise. Mrs. Wickett, nee Pickles, also voices a spirited expose on gender inequality, and the innuendos are hardly lost on the audience.
Reminiscent of the battle of wills from The Taming of the Shrew, their “romance” curiously parallels that of the niece and nephew, Alexandrina and Mr. Darlington. Kim Swennen’s classical English training shines through, enveloping her character’s entitled fa§ade. The loquacious barrister, the senile judge, and a pompous neighbor are all played by the versatile Matt Gottlieb, whose cross-dressing and falsetto voice are delightfully affected. In the dynamic role of Amelia Pickles-Wickett, Griffin is highly accomplished. Barbara Lackner’s beautiful period costumes, including such details as a ruby-colored pinky ring, adorn the characters through all their transformations.
But the third act, with its existential mood and prosaic repartee, is somewhat of a letdown. The linguistic brilliance loses its luster, leaving the audience to muse on the inevitability of old age and regret for roads not taken. These final impressions aside, the complex, charmingly eccentric characters are what one remembers-and the ingenuity of the experienced cast and their director.