Saturday, April 16, 2011

Fragments of Beckett and Brook

Back from the Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theater, for a matinee performance of Fragments, a collection of short pieces by Samuel Beckett and directed by the legendary Peter Brook.

Entrance to the Eisenhower Theater, bust of Dwight Eisenhower. Photos by C. G. Wagner. Click to enlarge

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I start out telling you Peter Brook is legendary without telling you why, but it's a name I recall studying 30-odd years ago at college in a class called Modern European Drama. That will have to do, I guess. I just knew I wanted to see this, and the good reviews supported my pre-existing enthusiasm.

This is what theater is supposed to be, actors on a stage conveying a writer's dreams (or nightmares) to a room of strangers, with the assistance of a visionary director.

Wait, maybe that's what life is supposed to be. I get them confused, staying in the audience all the time.

Since it had been that long since I studied drama (my "reviews" are actually recaps of experiences and do not pretend to expand anyone's understanding of theater making), I thought I would have liked a text to follow along, or help me afterwards to know "what it meant." But it really wasn't necessary.

In the first piece, "Rough for Theater, I," Yoshi Oïda plays a blind musician, and Bruce Myers, an amputee, two homeless men who are "fragments" that make an attempt to connect, to become whole. The result is ultimately mistrust and violent failure.

The centerpiece, "Act Without Words, II," reunited the hobos in a comic mime, wherein Oïda emerges from his sack in the morning to curse the day while Myers emerges raring to go, checking his watch every few seconds as though trying to make every moment count.

In only the fourth of the five pieces would I like to have had a text to refer to - the second monologue, "Neither," by the lone female of the troupe, Hayley Carmichael. It simply came and left before it could really engage me.

The final piece, "Come and Go," brought all three performers back as old women, gossips on a bench, pairing off to tell each other a filthy secret as soon as each in turn has turned her back. The funniest moment for me was when they affectionately held hands as they did when they were girls, the two on the ends clutching each other's hands across the one in the middle, as in the pas des quatres from Swan Lake. To think these hens once were swans! (No, Carmichael, Myers, and Oïda did not dance.)

The most melancholy and thought-provoking piece was Carmichael's first monologue, "Rockaby," the second piece of the program. The looping monologue showed how absurdists of the era deconstructed text to create new meaning, which is something that can only be done in the theater (well, I'll give you film, too).

A woman sits in the chair and repeats a soliloquy on loneliness and despair: "I said to myself (whom else?)" at first means "Of course I said it to myself, do you see me talking to anybody else?" but toward the third or four iteration, it has become, "Is there anyone else out there I can talk to?"

Her character seems to see her own reflection in the windows she faces on other buildings, other people with the blinds now up, now down, and wondering "whom else?"

A happy coincidence for me during that piece was that I was sitting in the section where the pair of sign-language interpreters were seated to give the show to the hearing impaired. Happy, because the young woman signing Carmichael's lonely monologue perfectly reflected her reflections. They were like narrative dancers in two mediums, telling the same story. It was an unexpected dimension that added to my experience.

That's why I go to the theater.

I do wonder whether all of us fragments really do add up to a complete whole, or should we try to be complete within ourselves, as the blind musician in the opening piece said: "I am as I always was." Too much of society turns out to be violators and the gossips that make life miserable.

Didn't mean to depress anyone, but it's what the play made me think about. The theatrical experience somehow brings me more rewards, and for me, that's okay.

Love, hosaa


ETA, I'm a little confused on the titles of the last two pieces; they are listed in the program as "Come and Go" fourth and "Neither" last, but in both the Washington Post and the Washingtonian reviews these titles are reversed. So I need text after all. Accurate text. I made my recap above consistent with the two professional (HAHA) reviewers, but I'm not sure of that. "Come and Go" seems more like what that short poem was about, but as I mentioned, I kind of missed it.

ETAA, "Come and Go" was the final piece performed, not "Neither," per the description in Wikipedia.

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