Of course one of the first things Gene noticed was the big poster for the Charles Burns designed version of the Nut Cracker for the Mark Morris Dance group:
He was more than willing to take the poster off their hands -- as I was wiling to do with the giant Beckett Centenary poster (think how good it would look outside my office!). After sighs of longing, and at the appointed time, we trooped down to the intimate theater to find our seats. The space, dark and small, gave the impression of throwing those of us in the small audience together for warmth or comfort agaisnt the high reaching ceiling of the theater. The stage was bare but for a wooden bench, all that was needed for the first monologue, "Enough." For "A Piece of Monologue" this was changed to a lamp and the suggestion of a bed, then a set of steps for the final "Texts for Nothing" selections.
Beckett's characters are hesitant to speak, yet bursting with a story to tell -- Ally Ni Chiarain who performed "Enough" captures this beautifully, appearing haunted and almost frightened, needing to speak yet afraid -- of criticism? or being misunderstood? of revealing too much? Yet like most of Beckett's characters, the story that consumes her is so personal and so intimate that she does not tell us the details that would make her pain plain, so we much listen very carefully, put together conflicting clues and never quite feel certain that we know what has happened -- yet we're riveted to her halting confession. At times the silence was so profound as we waited for her next word that you could hear stomachs rumble and gurgle. How often do we experience that kind of silence with a group of strangers?
If "A Piece of Monologue" worked less well, it was because Conor Lovett conveyed the sing-song and looping dialogue too hypnotically. Vocalized beautifully, but the droning old man, awash in a persistent memory, soothes the brain into drowsing too easily. Beckett plays with language and silence, sometimes to extremes.
A transformed Lovett reappeared after the break fo the continuous presentation of the "Texts." It's a less difficult row to hoe -- the Texts are humorous (as well as jarring, hesitant, loony and sometimes frightened). The audience responded with relief to the cameraderie of humor, and tensed up even more with the pregnant silences. At the end their applause warmly rewarded him for the spellbinding trip.
How must it feel to have that power over an audience, to play them like an instrument -- I think part of the reason I have gone back to writing plays is that I long for that immediate connection. While it's fun to play with the long narrative of a novel, there's nothing quite like the alchemy of the stage. To see your words live -- and live in unexpected ways as actors play with them, take the for a walk over new ground -- is an amazing thrill. I remember talking to Clive Barker once and he remarked that he was glad not to be a playwright anymore because the pain when that magic failed was too much to bear. But sometimes the distant pleasure of knowing someone out there somewhere is reading your work, just doesn't compare to laughter you created -- or gasps, or tears, or just anticipatory silence.
And why Beckett? I don't know for sure. He's been hanging over my shoulder for some time now with a lesson or two for me. Maybe it dates to seeing Bill Irwin perform some Beckett at MLA a few years back; maybe to my dog-eared copy of Waiting for Godot still sitting in storage in CT (soon to be liberated). I can't really say for sure -- but there's something I need to know that I do not yet know.