August 13th marks the 5th year anniversary of the opening of Forum’s first production, BECKETT: The Shorter Plays. Thanks to everyone who have made these past 5 seasons so successful and enjoyable.
Look for several features over the next month from company members, artists and friends about their favorite memories.
Here was our first review for BECKETT from Potomac Stages, plus some photos from that production.
Last week’s Potomac Stages Update included a buzz item “Potomac Stages welcomes Forum to the incredibly vibrant theater community of the Potomac Region.” Little did we know how refreshing an addition this company would be. Their proclaimed mission is to blend theater, dance and the visual arts into memorable experiences. This, their first effort in our region after productions in Harrisonburg, Virginia, augers well, for this isn’t an evening of dance pieces masquerading as theater nor is it a static art exhibit with theatrical elements. It is, instead, a very satisfying theatrical presentation with strong elements of movement and image. The material they selected dictates extreme theatricality. It is too early to predict what future offerings will be like, but here in seven short theater works by one of the fathers of the minimalist tradition which has come to be known as Theater of the Absurd, the company is presenting a very satisfying theatrical package.
Storyline: These seven short pieces run from the roughly half-hour well known Krapp’s Last Tape in which a man who has spent his life dictating an audio diary listens to an old take and makes his last new one, to the wordless two-minute Breath in which the cast walks across the stage, some of them dumping trash. There is the intensely atmospheric Come and Gowith its three women delivering brief, cryptic statements, the contemplation of mortality titled Rockaby, the piece Catastrophe, which Beckett co-wrote with Vaclav Havel, Footfalls and, perhaps most captivating, a piece titled Not I featuring simply a mouth.
The five members of the cast all deliver precise, deliberate and well developed performances in pieces that place great value on meticulousness. Beckett’s work is enigmatic but very specific, and it works best when performed cleanly with no distracting embellishments. He attempts to strip theater of what he saw as impediments to connection — such things as plot, character development and action. He replaces all that with an intensity of focus. This requires actors who can leave the material and their performances totally exposed without mannerisms, quirks or added actions to dilute the intensity of Beckett’s focus on a single concept.
The best illustration here is found in Not I where Melissa Schwartz, as the Auditor, wraps a seated Maggie Glauber in a drape so that all that is exposed is her mouth. That mouth then delivers a torrent of talk. Glauber can’t use any of the traditional tools of an actor. She is deprived of body language, posture, gesture, facial expression, eye contact and all the rest of the tricks of the trade. That she pulls it off is a testament to both her talent and her discipline. Paul Danaceau signals just this kind of discipline in his performance as Krapp which is, at least in the early portion, shorn of much movement. He takes that to the necessary extreme as the Protagonist in Catastrophe as he is practically motionless throughout, while Brent Lowder, as the “Director,” examines him from afar and suggests slight alterations in his demeanor.
As would be expected given the mission of this company, the production is visually striking. Mark Wright’s scenic design is essentially a painting on the floor on which the pieces are performed. It could be interpreted as a spotlight or a hole or a pit or a cage — or all of the above. His surgically efficient lighting works with a few set pieces to change the effect for each of the seven playlets. Deb Sivigny’s costumes are also precise solutions to theatrical requirements with the three color schemes for the three women in Come and Go differentiating otherwise identical outfits, the rumpled excess of Krapp and, most specifically, the drape which turns Glauber into a mouth.
Written by Samuel Beckett. Directed by Michael Dove. Design: Mark W.C. Wright (set and lights) Deb Sivigny (costumes) Michael Dove and Mark W.C. Wright (sound). Cast: Margery Berringer, Paul Danaceau, Maggie Glauber, Brent Lawder, Melissa Schwartz.