When the Lead Characters Are a Man and a Chair

The New York Times

Sparky Litman, in ”The Chinese Art of Placement,” sets out, from his first remark, to convince you that in middle age he is whole and healthy at last, after a life of bitter suffering and disappointment, a memory that may strike you as a delusion constructed by rampant schizophrenia. If, after 10,000 words of monologue in a little over an hour, you choose to believe him, you may be right. Or if you conclude that what you have witnessed is a total collapse of personality, you may also be right.

Sparky wins either way. His greatest anguish has always been being ignored or made the butt of jokes, some of them nearly cosmic. It’s a safe bet that a majority in any audience of the production of Stanley Rutherford’s play at the 78th Street Theater Lab on the Upper West Side will like Sparky deeply, laughing with him, not at him, as he ruefully exposes the radical loneliness, isolation and insensitivity of most of the nice, ordinary people one meets.

The role is the kind of high-wire dare certain types of actors and directors cannot resist. T. Scott Cunningham, who has created a number of lovable losers onstage in the last decade, lets the audience share the passionate satisfaction he finds in making this shattered man a very funny tour guide through human bewilderment. And the director, Jessica Bauman, translates the strange, jazzy rhythms of Mr. Rutherford’s prose into movements of one man and one chair around a stage in what appears to be a dance macabre for people of undefeatable good cheer.

Maybe the chair ought to acknowledged as having a role as well. The title of the piece refers of course to feng shui, and after listening to Sparky’s easy explanation of it, you see that occasionally the chair’s position lets you know that Sparky isn’t quite telling the truth.

The playwright and the actor both approach Sparky with wary reverence. He deserves that respect. D. J. R. BRUCKNER

A version of this article appeared in print on Wednesday, March 12, 2003, on section E page 5 of the New York edition.

Reviewed by: By D.J.R. BRUCKNER

‘The Chinese Art of Placement’

78th Street Theater Lab

© 2018 Jessica Bauman
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