The Shaker Chair - - A rocking chair it ain't, but memorable it is!

The Shaker Chair is currently being presented by the Shotgun Players and in collaboration with the Encore Theatre Company, in Berkeley. This is without a doubt a very thought-provoking and at the same time, a very disturbing play. Playwright Adam Bock is described in several publications as one of the “upward moving playwrights” on the current theatrical landscape and I have to agree that there is great promise for him, if this play is indicative of this Canadian playwright’s work in general.

The play takes the audience inside the sterile sanctity of Marion’s home where she proudly displays and describes to her sister, Dolly, her newly purchased Reproduction Shaker Chair. Marion (played by Frances Lee McCain) extols the virtues and shortcomings of her straight-backed, simply-made piece of furniture. First-of-all she praises its clean, simple and uncomplicated construction. Next, she even praises its lack of comfort. It is a chair that makes you “want to get up and do something worthwhile”. She seems to be trying to equate the simplistic and hardworking lifestyle of original Shaker furniture makers to that of motivational ergonomics designers. Marion acknowledges that the chair is decidedly uncomfortable, but she justifies this with a proposed subliminal purpose she feels was envisioned by its designer, that we should not be too comfortable in life, least we become too lazy and complacent. There-in lies the subliminal plot of the play itself. Playwright Bock seems to be saying, don’t allow yourself to become too comfortable with the status quo, thinking that someone else will protect us from the unscrupulous in our society who will profit from our ignorance and our fear of taking action ourselves.

Marion’s home is also a sanctuary, an island where her sister Dolly (Nancy Shelby) and her apparent best friend (an extreme social activist), Jean (Scarlett Hepworth), can seek refuge while attempting to enroll, engage and submerse Marion in their own needs, causes, and fears.
Dolly is married to Frank (Will Marchetti), an ego-centric control-freak, a fear-inducing bully of a husband as well as a two-timing philanderer. Dolly threatens to leave her husband, but is without the strength and resolve to do so. Dolly continually returns to Marion’s home to complain, to protest, and to seek the audience her sister provides. Marion can and does listen to her sister and attempts to give her advice (advice that will ultimately be ignored). She even listens to Dolly’s accusatory and belittling husband, telling him off as best she can, but with little positive or constructive result.

At the same time, her close friend, Jean, is a radical environmentalist who needs to borrow both Marion’s car and person, to help her to “pull off” a late-night environmental terrorist caper. Jean will do anything to grab headlines and to bring certain businesses that Jean and her group of friends believe are harming our environment, to their financial knees. Jean comes into Marion’s home to try to enroll Marion into driving Jean’s cohorts, Tom (Andrew Calabrese) and Lou (Marissa Keltie), to the scene of this particular evening’s “strike”. Jean has planned a eco-terrorist action against a pig farming operation, and “those who are poisoning us and our environment” by dumping tons of untreated pig excrement daily into nearby waterways.
The first question is, does the Shaker Chair provide enough discomfort for Marion to finally take responsible action? The second question is, what is responsible action and how does it manifest itself? The third question is, what are the consequences of our actions and inactions, and how and where do we as individuals find peace in our solutions to these questions?

At first, I didn’t like this play that I perceived as an endorsement for these eco-terrorists and their manifestos, but the more I thought about the play, the more I realized that the author’s intent seemed to be to get us up off our collective butts, to get us to actively investigate, to take some affirmative action toward the betterment of all man-kind.

There are moments of comedy. There are moments of fear and concern. There are six truly excellent actors who make this a very real exercise in removing long established blinders, in opening our peripheral vision and collective consciousness. The real live pig who takes part in this play is provided by the Recycled Pig Sanctuary Rescue organization in Davis, CA and by Carletta Richardson, that company’s founder. This organization is dedicated to the kind and ethical treatment of farm animals. Even though the play made me uncomfortable and a bit angry, I’m glad I attended, and I suggest you do so as well.

The Shaker Chair plays Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., with Sunday performances at 5 p.m., now through January 27th at The Ashby Stage at 1901 Ashby Avenue, at the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Ashby Avenue in Berkeley. The theatre is just north of the Ashby BART station in Berkeley (at 3100 Adeline Street) and I am told that you can park for free on the street or in the nearby BART station and then walk to the theater. Tickets are $20 for Thursdays and $25 for Fridays and Sundays, with $30 required for Saturday evening performances. You may visit the company website at or call (510) 841-6500 for additional information or reservations.