What could be more overwhelming than a play by Samuel Beckett? How about FIVE plays by Samuel Beckett?

Ron Sossi, the fearless founder of L.A.’s Odyssey Theatre and its Artistic Director, has built his reputation on the innovative, unique, and sometimes quirky theater productions he has undertaken in the Odyssey’s 48 years of existence.

Beckett5, which he is now directing, is a compilation of five seldom-seen one-acts that deal with some of Beckett’s major concerns: death, isolation, anxiety, regrets, and the differences between what is and what might have been. Strangely, though, these profound playlets are not as depressing as they may sound. Brought to life by five extraordinary actors, the scenes offer a range of emotions from wonder to apprehension, meditation to introspection, and every once in a while, but not too often, a small smile at Beckett’s playfulness.

In the first scene, the focus is on two large white nylon lumps in the middle of the empty stage. Gradually the larger lump moves and begins to extrude a man from its folds. He is clad in a white shirt, boxer shorts, and a derby, to which he slowly adds trousers, a jacket, and shoes. He stares somberly at the audience for a minute or two, swallows a couple of pills, and then proceeds to undress very carefully and crawl back into his nylon sack. Whereupon the other nylon lump extrudes a sweetly smiling old woman also dressed in a white shirt and boxer shorts who slowly dons the old man’s discarded clothes. She dances, makes faces, and continually checks her watch before she undresses and crawls back into her own nylon sack. The play is called “Act Without Words II” and is performed by Alan Abelew, Beth Hogan, and Norbert Weisser.

In “Come and Go” three old friends, Diana Cignoni, Sheelagh Cullen, and Beth Hogan, tastefully dressed in similar suits and hats of pink, turquoise, and yellow, sit quietly together on a bench. When one of them leaves the bench the other two whisper, but when all three are seated on the bench again one of them suggests that they “hold hands in the old way.” And they do, apparently reminiscing in total silence.

In “Catastrophe” a sculptor (Alan Abelew} positions a frail, quaking male figure (Norbert Weisser) according to the overbearing direction of Beth Hogan, who is apparently preparing the living figure for presentation as a pathetic victim of some presumably political disaster.

And finally, in the eerie fourth play, “Footfalls,” May (Diana Cignoni), dressed in a soft nightgown and peignoir, paces back and forth, nine steps each way, in an attempt to validate her existence. As she paces, she converses with her unseen mother (Sheelagh Cullen), dying in an adjacent room. To her mother she explains her pacing. The sound of her footfalls reassures her that she has not disappeared, she says, as does her mother’s answer to her question, “What age am I now?”

After a brief intermission, the second half of the evening is given up to Norbert Weisser in a dynamic portrayal of Krapp from “Krapp’s Last Tape.” Scenery has been added: the long boardwalk that May traversed in “Footfalls” is now filled with old books and tins holding reels of tape. Krapp sits at a desk and fiddles with his tape recorder, stopping and rewinding as he listens repeatedly to portions of the journal that he has compiled over the last 30 years. He responds to his own spoken words, arguing with and repudiating his testimony, but mostly reliving a love affair that he now regrets abandoning. His conversation with himself also includes long contemplative silences as he, and you, ruminate together on what might have been.

Beckett5, presented by KOAN Unit, will be performed Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through March 5 at the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd. in Los Angeles. For tickets, call (310) 477-2055, ext. 2, or visit online at www.OdysseyTheatre.com.

 

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