Seven actors scramble and skid from the front to the back of the house, and in and out of every available door, in Theatre Is Dead and So Are You, Stolen Chair’s rambling, fitfully thoughtful vaudevillian wake for the art form we hate to love so. Director Jon Stancato’s performers soon begin to resemble jugglers struggling to keep their show in mid-air, although juggling, in fact, is one of the few old-time forms the show doesn’t sample. True to Stolen Chair’s endearingly eclectic retro mission, there’s a dash of magic, some disturbing puppetry, more mime than should be legal, assorted varieties of melodrama and histrionics, and a few sweet if slightly rickety period-style songs, accompanied by a game live band.
The ostensible agenda is to honor the late Leonard J. Sharpe (Tommy Dickie), a freshly deceased troupe member whose center-stage coffin is part set piece, part stage trunk, part playing area. But aside from some creepy Weekend at Bernie’s–style antics with his corpse, the presence of death is mostly a pretext for playwright Kiran Rikhye’s meta-theatrical musings on the essential futility of doing theater, and—by extension—of living at all. We can’t help thinking that Beckett and Ionesco did the existential-clown shtick first, and better.