Ship Of Fools
Two plays by Samuel Beckett express the absurdity of life.
Thursday, May 25, 2000
Amidst the usual ho-hum season of tried-and-true musicals and period comedies, there is reason to celebrate (at least for loyal and hard-core theater fans). Beckett is in town! And, thanks to Conrad Selvig''s subtle direction and a couple of understated and economic performances, it is good Beckett. Truly, is there anything more sublime than Beckett done well?
In the bulk of his work, Beckett examines the deterioration, the emptiness, the yearning of modern life--the halting, insensible march toward death. But lest you think the audience might be driven to mass existential depression, let me remind you that this is theater of the absurd, of which Samuel Beckett was the master. Yes, there is angst; there is futility, but there is also a self-knowing humor. Almost as if to say, "Life is an absurd game, but aren''t we all fools together?"
The first of the two offerings of the evening was Act Without Words II--a show in pantomime with two players and no words that speaks volumes. As is the usual mode with Beckett, Act Without Words II articulates the utter futility of our daily lives: the patterns, rituals and drives (not to mention goads) that get us up in the morning and put us to bed at night with nothing of any real relevance or meaning in between.
Act Without Words II, performed by Virgina August and Denise Guarneri, is funny and scary. Funny because August and Guarneri are fine foils as the two "types" represented in the pantomime--August as a sort of drugged-out somnambulist and Guarneri as the stand-up, highly motivated go-getter. Guarneri especially captures the kind of kinetic energy (and wonderful physical timing) of a driven, self-satisfied corporate drone. And scary because this play was first published in 1957, yet has lost not an iota of relevance to today''s mind-numbing workaday grind. If anything, Beckett''s work has been vindicated with the passage of time.
Krapp''s Last Tape, a one-act, one-man play, is darker than Act Without Words. In the capable hands of Len Parry as Krapp, the play is a tour de force of subtle humor and pathos. Parry is able to hold our focus with a vacant stare--a feat that requires more energy from an actor than any rage of temper. He understates and thereby allows the power of Beckett''s theatrical vision to come to the fore. Rather than fighting the material, Parry allows it to be what it is. Krapp is desolate, and we believe him. From his ragged, dirty socks to the clop-clop of his hard-heeled slippers as he shambles across the floor, Krapp is a doddering goat--a sad, uncomprehending fool. He is Everyman.
As the curtain goes up, Krapp sits amongst piles of loose recording tape and the remnants of his life--spools of tape-recorded "retrospects." Recorded at yearly intervals throughout Krapp''s life, the tapes introduce us to a younger Krapp. And that is partly what the present-day older Krapp seeks to do--to connect to his younger self, to somehow defy the second law of thermodynamics and halt the inevitable decay of self.
Ultimately, Krapp is unable to complete a single act--get the girl, make a commitment, or even that act to which his name alludes. He ends by denying his desire for understanding and connection: "Perhaps my best years are gone. When there was a chance of happiness. But I wouldn''t want them back...No, I wouldn''t want them back."
The set (by Selvig) also contributes to the inevitability of Krapp''s final moments of quiet desperation by seeming to close in on itself as it moves upstage and away from the audience.
Krapp''s Last Tape and Act Without Words II are at the Carl Cherry Center for the Arts in Carmel. See listings for days and times.