When I first saw Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot
, I felt like I had come of age. Middle age. I was finally old enough to see that life is merely a sum of trivial pursuits meant to pass the time until death. And I was good with that. Seeing the four Beckett plays presented at Butler University last Saturday, however, I felt less tranquil. I was sure that I had taken one too few college classes, the one reserved for really smart people. Beckett people.
The Llanarth Group, directed by Phillip Zarrilli and based in Wales, is a traveling theatrical troupe made up of Beckett people. They understand that words are the obstacle - not the aid - to communication. They launch tiny Beckett plays that are more like art exhibits than plays, meant to be seen, heard and felt, but not necessarily understood.
The first two plays in The Beckett Project
are stunning. Not just visually beautiful, they actually stun the senses. You can read Ohio Impromptu
's synopsis on Wikipedia, but I dare you to figure it out when the set's single white table is fairly vibrating against a pitch black backdrop, while two men in long silver wigs sit motionless like mirrored mannequins. Only one speaks, reading a story of love and loss and misanthropic wandering. Although the meaning is unclear, I'm sure that its sole eerie image will haunt me in the future, probably the next time I give blood/pass out.
In Not I
, a mouth speaks through a circle cut out of a black curtain and the speaker is hidden. The Mouth rapidly rattles about her former muteness and the buzz in her brain. Like the first play, this one relies on a strong, surrealistic image (brightly lit red lips and white teeth) and a blur of words.
After the mix of sensory deprivation and overload, Play Without Words I
seems miraculously easy to comprehend - without words. A suited man is being toyed with by a mysterious figure that operates outside of the man's vision or understanding. Is he God? The man himself? The simple sight gags, in which props are hidden or placed out of reach, are reminiscent of Charlie Chaplin bits, but darker. Tensions find release in laughter.
, Llanarth returns us to words and a solitary image. An elderly woman sits in a rocking chair, as a voice off stage lulls her into life's final sleep. It's a fitting emotional landing.
Llanarth is meticulous in its presentation and juxtaposition of its plays. Still, I struggled with Beckett's stream of consciousness and my desire to understand it. It seems that I can accept that life is meaningless, but not that words are.