Saturday, September 20, 2014

15 plus companies help create city-wide Beckett Fest - Best known play "Waiting for Godot"

Darragh Kennan and Todd Jefferson Moore in Waiting for Godot (John Ulman)

Waiting for Godot
Seattle Shakespeare Company
(At ACT Theatre's Central Heating Lab)
Through September 21

From the brains of George Mount, artistic director of Seattle Shakespeare Company, and then A.J. Epstein proprietor of West of Lenin and a few other theater practitioners, sometime back in 2013 or 2014, there came a decision to have a citywide festival celebrating Irish playwright Samuel Beckett. Having thus decreed it, they bustled about making it so with fundraising and recruiting other companies to choose pieces of Beckett's writings and create productions. There are over 15 companies participating in the festival!

Beckett (1906-1989) was a practitioner of the "theater of the absurd" and prized minimalism. He grew to adulthood in Dublin and then taught in France and spent most of his life between the two countries. He often wrote in French and then made his own translations.

The festival has a website: www.seattlebeckettfest.org that includes a list of productions and companies and links to help you find them and buy tickets. There is also a Facebook page: www.facebook.com/seattlebeckettfest.

Life=Play and other events
A few events have already taken place. West of Lenin produced an evening of four short pieces, entitled Life=Play. Act Without Words, Part 1 starred Ray Tagavilla in a kind of humorous mime play where a man tumbles onto stage and the stage itself directs him to try to grab a vial of water hung from the ceiling, and mysteriously provides boxes for him to climb on to reach the vial. Ultimately, though, the vial is pulled too high to reach.


Next, Rockaby starred Susanna Burney as an old woman in a rocking chair listening to her own inner dialogue telling her it was time to 'leave.' Come and Go was a four minute scene between three friends (Kate Draay, Kate Sumpter and Rachel Delmar) who gossip in twos about each third and then link hands 'in the old way' intricately.

Finally, M. Burke Walker returned to Seattle especially to perform in Krapp's Last Tape, in French with subtitles. Here a man reflects on his own past by listening to 30 year-old audio-tapes (on reel-to-reel tape, in fact) pondering his life while eating several bananas. The entire evening was inventive and introduced Beckett's lyricism and absurdity. It also demonstrated the difficulty in some ways of understanding what Beckett was trying to say.

Other past events include Sandbox Radio Live: Beckett on the Radio, and Amy Thone reading excerpts from Happy Days as a member of New Century Theatre Company and the Endangered Species Project reading The Iceman Cometh (though I'm not sure I get the connection between Eugene O'Neill and Beckett except in opposition).

Waiting for Godot
Beckett's most famous piece, Waiting for Godot, is now on stage at ACT Theatre (as part of their Central Heating Lab) produced by Seattle Shakespeare Company. Two men, Estragon (Darragh Kennan) and Vladimir (Todd Jefferson Moore) wait by a tree for someone named GOD-oh (the pronunciation is not necessarily correct or incorrect, more a preference, though part of the implication in the entire play is that the two men wait for God).

While they wait, they discuss aspects of life, 'what it's all about,' and complain (Estragon) and wonder (Vladimir). A prosperous merchant, Pozzo (Chris Ensweiler), and his servant, Lucky (Jim Hamerlinck), come by and Pozzo demonstrates his ability to boss people around. A young boy (Alex Silva) arrives with the message that Godot will 'come tomorrow,' and the men return the next day to wait again.

Pozzo returns with no memory of meeting them, but today, he is blind and a much-chastened man. Eventually, the boy again arrives with the message that 'Godot will come tomorrow.'

Some of the exchanges are humorous, some mundane, some poetic and some exasperating. The meaning of the play has been examined and written about in many books. It is completely open to interpretation and allows you to apply to it an examination of the nature of life, or an examination of class and money, or how people sometimes become frozen by waiting for something so that, finally, something else can begin ("when I lose weight" "when I find love" "when I save enough money, then...").

Kennan and Moore make a wonderful couple of guys to spend time with. Their portion of the play is riveting and revealing. However, Pozzo's contribution takes the air out of the play, whether it is the script or Ensweiler is hard to decipher. Partly, Ensweiler is such an energetic actor that he overpowers the role and a director must help him modulate. Here he is just too big, even for a role that calls for some ostentation. Hamerlinck gives another jewel-like performance as he silently stands straining and occasionally must speak or sing or dance.

Aspects of the production lend to calling it a 'must see' event, but it is a long play, and parts might be a strain to keep patience through. If you have known about this Beckett play and never seen it performed, this is indeed an opportunity to see two top-notch actors (in particular) bring it to life.