Thursday, September 13, 2007
Más de Don Samuel Beckett -- Collected Shorter Plays of Samuel Beckett: All That Fall, Act Without Words, Krapp's Last Tape, Cascando, Eh Joe, et al
These twenty-nine short plays of Beckett’s struck me with their raw literary power. Beckett is a poet first and his plays reflect the stripped down language of poetry, its ability to telegraph a world of emotion and content with the least amount of words. His work reduces theatrical action to its most minimal form, generating vast amounts of meaning from the smallest gesture. I attempt in my own work to infuse movement with meaning that deepens the text or becomes, in conjunction with music, the tool by which the narrative is communicated.
The constant theme running through all these short pieces is impermanence, loss, and kind of regeneration. Everything disintegrates into something else and the major struggle of existence is finding a way to cope with this. Most of Beckett’s characters deal with it through cynicism and bitterness or through the false sense that they have control over the situation, which can turn on a dime into despair and inertia.
In a performance trilogy I've been working on, I'm trying to address the illusion of childhood safety, a safety that can be shattered in a instant. REM/Memory introduces the audience to that disintegration at the most personal, most physical level. The woman in the piece tries to unsuccessfully deal with the incest wound much like a Beckett character, through bitter sex, alcoholism, and emotional brutality, reaping a harvest of despair as a result. Bury The Bones attempts to portray the depths to which that wounding is not merely personal, but endemic to the culture. We witness violence as powerless voyeurs day in day out, and learn to inure ourselves to it, its prominence a staple of popular culture. It's alluring, the way these staples have elements of pleasure fused to it. I'm not immune--I love the so-called ‘action’ genre, the adrenaline rush. Frankly, I seek it out, even though I feel both attraction and repulsion. In working with this material, I try to exploit my own reaction to violence, reveal it as shared currency with audiences, and explore its implications with others in discussions post performance.
Where there's divergence in Beckett’s world view and my own centers around my belief in the power of spiritual transformation as both process and end. In the trilogy's finale, there is literally and figurative a resurrection. The means of that rebirth for me is a woman-centered cosmology, one with its origins in a sensibility of sensuality, bounty, feminine bonding and relationship. Using the structure of the Catholic mass, I hope to draw the audience into a later discussion of communal spirituality, the use of ritual and the value of theater in the development of such a practice. It's not my intent to proselytize the audience regarding a specific religious belief, however. I'm interested in drawing audiences into a shared experience where their own hunger for spirit can be experienced and fed, their own desire for transformation.
Reflecting again on the technical value of this book, the importance of spare language and tight, potent imagery is reinforced. Less is more, as the old adage goes, and is the hallmark of Beckett’s literary genius. For all the bitterness of his characters, there's still a strong sense of humor for the human predicament. I try to bring humor to bear as well, ironic humor, perhaps, graveyard humor certainly, but a humor that communicates a sense of life going on in the worst circumstances.
A Beckett play is poorly mounted when there's no balance between comedy and despair. If played too slapstick, then the weight of the human condition dissipates and Beckett's meaning losses it’s force. If played too heavily, the hopefulness that is subtly woven through his language gets lost, and he's seen as no more than a bitter and cynical playwright with a chip on his shoulder. The key for actors and directors is in finding the true wants of each character and acting them as real actions, alive in the moment. The language will take care of itself without the need for over or underacting. Ultimately, Beckett should be read as poetry, with all the sensuous, subtle nuance of the best poetics, not a TV sitcom.