Don't let the threat of grimness deter you from seeing the latest Edward Bond import, Chair, a totalitarian cautionary tale incisively rendered by director Robert Woodruff. Yes, you will have a hard time ever erasing from your memory bank the image of the bloodied , groaning "escortee" played by Joan MacIntosh. The brief appearance of this elderly woman, battered speechless, is both eloquent and indelibly disturbing. But it's the before and after, in this world of uncertainties and absolutes, that will haunt you in the end.
"First Picture" (the scenes are labeled thus) gives us what looks like a classroom for one: the walls are plastered with crayoned drawings, and Billy (the adult Will Rogers) sits at a desk scribbling as Alice (Stephanie Roth Haberle) - his teacher, or perhaps mother? - peers out through drawn curtains.
This potentially cozy scene is fraught with danger. We soon learn that, in 2077, window-gazing is against the law, and that Alice and Billy's relationship is a bit more complicated. While we try to puzzle it all out (Bond, like Beckett, keeps the dialogue intentionally off-kilter and allusive), Alice - claiming to succumb to Billy's wishes, though clearly she has motivations of her own - embarks on a brave mission. She decides to take a chair down to the street, in the hope that the soldier guarding the old woman will have the decency to offer it to his prisoner.
Does Alice know the woman or not? No matter - though the possibility colors the horrific consequences and all that ensues. Alice has gone up against an all-powerful state, and her circumscribed little life - along with that of the man-child in her care - may never recover.
Haberle's delivery seems a bit grandiose at first (is Alice perhaps a retired elocution teacher?) but comes to match the scope of her ideals. Rogers is superb as a case of arrested development: he exhibits a child's innate antsiness, and Bond has lent Billy the mindset of a self-absorbed household potentate. Underplaying the role of a government officer come to investigate Alice's aberrant behavior, Annika Boras is chillingly effective.
Chair may be deeply unsettling, but it's also a thrilling theatrical experience with real-life resonance.