by Lynn on February 20, 2012

in The Passionate Playgoer

Samuel Beckett

At the Berkeley Street Theatre, Downstairs. Written by Samuel Beckett. Directed by Jennifer Tarver. Musical Direction by Dáirine Ní Mheadhra and John Hess. Designed by Teresa Przybylski. Lighting by Kimberly Purtell. Starring: Laura Condlln, Michael Fedyshyn, Michal Grzejszczak, Shannon Mercer, Tom Rooney, Sofia Tomic

Produced by Queen of Puddings Music Theatre Company in association with Canadian Stage Company.

Plays until February 25, 2012

The title, BECKETT FECK IT! is a tongue in cheek wink at the nay-sayers who are disparaging of Samuel Beckett, that most maddeningly absurdist, complex and complicated of playwrights, Irish notwithstanding. Beckett has been confounding audiences for decades about what his plays really mean. His silences are as full of meaning as his words. The answer is not the point. The discussion of the work is everything.

Four of Beckett’s one-act plays: Act Without Words II, Come and Go, Play, and Ohio Impromptu, are interspersed with the music selections: “Trumpeter” by Gerald Barry, “Drei Gesänge” by Andrew Hamilton and “Eleanór a Rún” by Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh, which in turn are complex, cheeky, and beautiful.

Beckett’s plays celebrate the ridiculous, absurd, tenacity in the face of grinding futility and what might erroneously be called boredom.

In Act Without Words II a long rod slides out from the wings and prods one of two sacks. One sack, referred to as A in the program, moves. A man appears from out of the sack, prays, broods, slowly hauls himself up to standing, sighs heavily, broods, and goes through the exhausting motions of dressing from a mound of neatly folded clothes on the ground, taking a pill, dragging the second sack (called B in the program) a few feet, sighing more heavily, then getting undressed again, prays and gets back into his sack to sleep.

The rod, prods the second sack (B) and just as enervated as A is that is how energetic and fastidious B is. He rises in a shot to full height, smiling all the time; checking his pocket watch; brushing his teeth with vigor; putting on the same pants and shoes that A has removed; dragging the mound of A a few feet then going through the whole routine again. B carefully takes off the clothes and neatly folds and puts them on the ground, waiting for the whole routine to be repeated. The routine is exhausting for one and energizing for the other.

While the two men never interact except that they both wear the same clothes and each drags the other a few feet, there are echoes of Waiting for Godot in the actions. A is ground down by the futility of it all; B continues on with optimism, a smile and energy in spite of it. And there is a presence of a carrot.

Come and Go is about women friends sitting on a bench. They have known each other for years. They know each other’s secrets. When one leaves the bench for a minute the other two talk about her. Protective, seemingly knowing if news they know will be hurtful and harmful to the absent other. They don’t want to dwell in the past, but really do.

In Play three gray faces appear at stage level, illuminated in speaking turn tell how they each coped with an affair. These faces are in fact urns. One was a man who is involved with two women. One of the women is his wife; the other the mistress. Sometimes they speak together, often separately; sometimes in slow speech; often rushed, monotoned but full of verve. The piece expresses the rage, anger, embarrassment and humiliation they all feel at the unfaithfulness.

Ohio Impromptu is so named because it was first performed at the University of Ohio in 1981. Two sad, long-haired, long-robed men sit at a table. One reads aloud from a book, the other listens. The Listener occasionally wraps the table with his fist. This signals the Reader to repeat a phrase or pause and continue. What is being read is perhaps the story of how the Listener came to be there; how he had done something that left a ‘dear one’ behind and he regretted it. The Reader had perhaps been sent by the left ‘dear one’ to read and re-read the story to the Listener to give him comfort.

Samuel Beckett was precise in his stage directions, going so far as to specify how far the sacks in Act Without Words II should be from each other, from each wing, and how far they might be dragged. In Come and Go Beckett specifies how the faces should be partially shrouded and how softly they should speak. In Play he specifies how long in seconds a spotlight should be on a face; the speed of one speech over another. And the same precise stage directions apply to Ohio Impromptu—where the Reader sits at the table and how he slumps and where the Listener sits, his posture etc.

Director Jennifer Tarver is hugely respectful of those stage directions but adds her own sensitive touches by guiding her accomplished cast and design team (Teresa Przybylski—set and costumes, and Kimberly Purtell—lighting) who exquisitely create the moody, mysterious and even funny world of this quietly dazzling playwright.

In Act Without Words II, as A, Michal Grzejszczak is so exhausted by the weight of the world that he hardly moves for sighing. Instead he lets the momentum of a flipped arm flop into his pocket to get the bottle of pills. He slumps, which contorts his body to slide his clothes on or off. Hilarious. As B, Tom Rooney is all energy and tight smile. Movements are quick, precise and hilarious as well.

In the other plays Laura Condlln, Sofia Tomic and Shannon Mercer are effective, moving and evocative. Mercer does double duty as the singer. Her voice is beautiful, rich and supple. She is beautifully partnered by Michael Fedyshyn on trumpet who is nimble and plays beautifully.

BECKETT: FECK IT! is a huge achievement of the collaboration of Queen of Puddings Music Theatre (not your ordinary music theatre to be sure—which is one of its beauties) and Canadian Stage, which continues to bring disparate groups together to produce provocative theatre (witness the many avant guard dance/theatre groups that have been part of the previous and future seasons).

Beckett is hard. This sublime evening of his words and silences, framed by the wonderful, evocative music, is worth every challenging second.

BECKETT: FECK IT! plays at the Berkeley Street Theatre Downstairs until Feb. 25, 2012

Tickets: 416-368-3110;

Leave a Comment

Respectful comments are accepted on this site as long as they are accompanied by a verifiable name and a verifiable e-mail address. Posts that are slanderous, libelous or personally derogatory will not be approved.