Sunday, January 9, 2011

2011 Begins in Art (2 of 3 posts)

Watt by Samuel Beckett is actor Barry McGovern's adaptation of Beckett's second novel*—a remarkably coherent distillation of the 250 page text into a taut 60-minute performance. McGovern serves as narrator—masterfully bringing the poetically repetitive language to life ("And if I could begin it all over again a hundred times, knowing each time a little more than the time before, the result would always be the same, and the hundredth life as the first, and the hundred lives as one.")—and populates his tale with dozens of colorful characters that the enigmatic Watt encounters in his position as manservant to his reclusive master, Mr. Knott. With the help of his director, Tom Creed, McGovern has skillfully adapted the piece for the Public's Newman Theater (it was originally created for the Gate Theatre in Dublin) and establish a variety of locations using only two chairs and a coat rack. They've also mined a great deal of humor—both physical and verbal—from the piece, as I believe there should always be with Beckett (please, God, never make me sit through another one of those overly earnest productions that miss all the jokes). It's an exceptional and exceptionally simple production

I wish that I could say the same for Freedom Club, New Paradise Laboratory and Riot Group's production playing at the Connelly Theater. Catherine and I have enjoyed the NPL shows we've seen before this, starting with 2003's Rrose Selavy Takes a Lover in Philadelphia; and playwright Adriano Shaplin's Hell Meets Henry Halfway is still one of our favorite Pig Iron productions. The combination of these two groups must surely yield theatrical gold, right? And yet, somehow, it just doesn't. The script is by far the weakest element in the piece: the comparison of John Wilkes Booth's journey to becoming a presidential assassin in 1865 to that of a group of left-wing radicals in 2015 doesn't yield any significant results. I agree that the lunatic fringe on either end of the political spectrum might be just one pissed-0ff incident away from violence but I don't feel that Shaplin has much to say beyond that. And the juvenile sexual content in the 1865 scenes added nothing to piece—it wasn't funny and it didn't illuminate anything about the characters or the situation. The actors all seem capable but director Whit MacLaughlin often has them standing stiffly downstage and delivering most of their lines directly to the audience instead of to one another; the intention is clearly to mimic the 19th century acting technique but it's stylization for the sake of being stylized—there's just no pay off. I certainly believe that there's great potential in a collaboration between these companies; I hope that next time they're able to realize it better.

Still to come: Vice Versa and Your Brother. Remember?

*My googling of Watt turned up this odd little blog in which an Irish gentleman performs a serialized reading of the novel—kinda fun!

No comments: