In The Shaker Chair, Marion (Mary Pauley) is excited about her new piece of furniture, and seems to think she’s acquired a new creed along with it. She gleefully talks about the beliefs and habits of the Shakers, who believed God would guide them if they listened carefully, they believed in taking action and they practiced cleanliness. The chair itself is simple in design and with its tall, straight back looks sort of uncomfortable. That seems to set up everything in Adam Bock’s straightforward and spare drama, currently running at the AllWays Lounge & Theatre.
Marion is in her sixties and trying to take a fresh look at life. Pauley convincingly portrays her excited but cautious late blossoming.
The entire play takes place in Marion’s living room. At times, her sister Dolly (Brandi-lea Harris) sits in an armchair and mopes about her deteriorating marriage. She cries incessantly and hides at Marion’s home rather than confront her husband Frank (Jim Wright). Marion’s friend Jean (Claudia Baumgarten) stops by often and uses Marion’s home to hide after conducting reconnaissance missions at an industrial pig farm that’s leaking animal waste into the local water supply. Jean tries to recruit Marion to get involved in protests against the polluter. Marion says the Shakers were pacifists, but after watching Dolly’s passivity and sulky indecision, she is swayed to join one of Jean’s maneuvers.
The activists toss out Shaker and Buddhist mantras and protest philosophies of working within versus outside “the system.” It is not much of a surprise when the amateur monkey wrench gang gets into trouble on one of its nighttime missions, and the issue is no longer one of raised awareness and consciousness but a more complex moral one about activism. Unfortunately, the play buries the issue too quickly.
Brevity is more amusing elsewhere. The script features many disjointed conversations — full of fragments, interruptions and non sequiturs — and they work in a couple of conversations, but repetition of the technique risks turning it into a gimmicky distraction. Harris and Wright ably spar in a long argument that barely features a completed sentence though it’s very clear what each is saying. Pauley and Baumgarten share a similar repartee about Dolly’s moping behavior and relationship troubles.
Director Kristen Gremillion keeps the play on the fast pace it requires, and it flies by in an entertaining fashion. The play seems short on efforts to deal with the choices Marion and Dolly face, and Bock could have done more to fully furnish those elements better.