Broadcast text review of BECKETT TRILOGY

by Lynn on October 16, 2015

in The Passionate Playgoer

The following reviews were reviewed on Friday, October 16, 2015. CIUT FRIDAY MORNING, 89.5 FM, Beckett Trilogy at the Berkeley Street Theatre, Downstairs, until November 1, 2015.

The host was Phil Taylor

Good Friday morning. It’s theatre fix time with Lynn Slotkin our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. What do you have for us today?

I have Beckett Trilogy, which, as the title suggests, are three short plays by Samuel Beckett, the Irish playwright who has been challenging audiences for more than half a century. The plays are: Not I, Footfalls, and Rockaby. They are plays to be performed by an actress, in this case the glorious, fearless, Lisa Dwan.

What are each of these plays about?

Not I is about a seventy year old woman who was prematurely born; abandoned by her parents; unloved, isolated, and almost mute. Something happened in her life that shattered her silence and she speaks, in the third person, in a torrent about her life.

In Footfalls a woman named May paces up and down a lit expanse of bare floor, covering the area in nine slow, heavy footed steps, after which she ‘wheels’ around and paces back over the same area, again in nine steps. Her aged mother is in the next room, perhaps dying. May asks her mother if she can tend her; give her an injection; change her dressings; change her position in bed; pray for her. The mother says yes, but it is too soon. The mother also asks if May will every have done, will ever stop pacing.

We get a glimpse of May’s life. When she was young, and other girls were playing lacrosse and going outside, May remained inside and that’s how her life has been confined since then.

And finally, Rockaby. A prematurely old, dishevelled woman in a black evening gown (with sequins), sits in a rocking chair. Her face and hands are ghostly white as she rocks and stares out a window looking for a hint of someone like her. She sees windows across from hers that are empty; windows with the blinds shut; no hint of anyone else. She keeps rocking and looking and searching for another person like her.

What do you think Beckett is saying in these plays?

For these women he’s writing about isolation, loneliness; women who have shut themselves away from life but continue to live it in their own confined way.

As with all Beckett’s plays, whether about men or women, his characters endure, they prevail, continue, and in their own way they live. They don’t seem to despair even in the saddest of their lives, or if they do despair it’s not in a way that makes them reckless. They wait for the inevitable and don’t rush it along. Certainly in these three productions it’s about the workings of a fragile mind.

Tell us about these productions.

All three productions are directed by Walter Asmus who is a Beckett aficionado—he’s worked with him and directed many of his plays.

It stars Lisa Dwan who was coached, mentored if you will, by Billie Whitelaw who was Beckett’s muse in a sense. She was a great interpreter of Beckett’s work.

Year’s ago I was lucky enough to see Whitelaw to Footfalls and Rockaby. So you have all this experience interpreting the man’s challenging plays. But there isn’t a sense of reverence about it.

Asmus and Dwan do things in these productions that startle me.

How so?

In Not I the theatre is pitch dark. Even the exit signs are turned off. All we see is an illuminated mouth above the stage about eight feet. We watch that mouth as the words gush and rush out at break-neck speed.

Lisa Dwan goes like the wind, and says the words crisply but at times it’s hard to decipher what she is saying. We get the sense of the story, but it’s just a natural wish to want to hear everything. Is that what Beckett wants—for us to listen hard trying to hear everything but not succeeding, but still getting clumps of the story?

In past productions I’ve seen there is an Auditor dressed in black, in dim light. I could not detect that character is there. But still from what the mouth says, you get the sense she is talking to someone who interrupts the story to ask questions, and the mouth is startled out of her torrential delivery to question the auditor and then to clarify, with exasperation what she meant.

In Footfalls, May clomps along that lit expanse of floor, holding her shoulders, as if she’s cold, head down. She stops when she talks to her mother. Usually there is a recording of another actress who plays the mother, who replies to May’s questions. Here, the mother’s voice is deep, quivery and suggestive of a life that is seeping away. I wonder who that actress is. And am startled when I realize that Lisa Dwan is playing both parts; she is doing the mother’s voice as well as May’s. Woow. Vivid, arresting, and so compelling.

And finally in Rockaby Lisa Dwan sits in a rocking chair that does not make one sound when she rocks. Her face is stark white as are her hands. She wears a black sequined evening gown. She rocks into and out of the light, looking haunted and harrowing.

You obviously liked these productions. You know Beckett isn’t easy. Who would you recommend these to?

I’d recommend Beckett Trilogy to anyone who likes their theatre challenging, and there are a lot of them.

I’d recommend this to anyone who wants to see an actress at the top of her game and a director who knows how to illuminate Beckett’s work in a pitch, dark theatre. Kudos to lighting designer James Farncombe. I’d recommend this to anyone who has a preconceived notion that Beckett is bleak. His characters blaze in their own way. It’s important to see that. Terrific production.

Thanks Lynn. That’s Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. You can read Lynn’s blog at Twitter @slotkinletter.

Beckett Trilogy plays at the Berkeley Street Theatre, Downstairs until November 1, 2015.

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.