Sunday, October 15, 2006

Beckett at Bard

We drove down to Annandale-on-Hudson (where, as Robert pointed out to us Monday, "the pump don't work 'cause the vandals took the handle") to where the big Gehry looms out at the edge of the woods for the Gare St. Lazare production of a Triple Bill of Beckett shorts.

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.


C. Margery Kempe said...

Test your knowledge of Beckett's oeuvre with this quiz from the Guardian. I got a 9 out of 10 which earned me this response:

"Well done: you clearly know your Beckett, well enough to know how meaningless such achievements are."

Unknown said...

6 out of 10.
"Try again. Fail again. Fail better."

There is no sane reason that my score should have been so high.

The Queen said...

Wow, I got 3 right and I don't know a damned thing about Beckett.


"You scored 3 out of a possible 10
Ever tried. Ever failed. (Worstward Ho)
You really should get to know Beckett better, since he's the great poet of failure and that seems to be something you're well acquainted with."

C. Margery Kempe said...

Heh, heh. Gene, you were just immersed in an afternoon of Beckett -- clearly osmosis pays off!

Queen -- what're the odds on guessing the right answers? Tee hee. Of course you can just look at that profile and choose the right answers to a lot of them, eh?

C. Margery Kempe said...

Here's the Museum of Viral Memory's sponsored production of Beckett's "Not I." Visit MVM's new Icelandic installation -- or join them for Noise 'n Pancakes.

It is very different from the Julianne Moore version directed by Neil Jordan. A little more traditional -- but who's to say that's better?

Anonymous said...

4 out of 10 and I know very little about Beckett. Just reading your blog has made me more knowledgeable about Beckett. Well done! And we miss you down here in Texas.

C. Margery Kempe said...

Hey Rob! Good to see you here -- miss you, especially around the horror-filled month of October. Are you planning to hit the new Texas Chainsaw?

Anonymous said...

We went last Friday. Yes, Friday the 13th. Not exactly what I was hoping for in the movie claiming to be the "beginning". I will not expand further until you have had a chance to see it.

C. Margery Kempe said...

Hmmmm -- well, that doesn't bode well, but maybe I'll get to teh theater soon.

And Gene reminded me of another Beckett artifact: Waiting for Gummo: the Marx Bros. do Beckett. Somewhere I have a poster of this mini-comic; although after two cross-country moves, I'm not too sure I can find it...

The Queen said...

Well, sure, I could have GUESSED the right answers, but I didn't want to attach so much meaning to the quiz...