Beckett en français était formidable
The Seattle Beckett Festival opened this week at West of Lenin with Life=Play an Evening of Short Works and Rarities by Samuel Beckett. Of the four plays presented, two were absolute duds, one was reasonably entertaining and the fourth, La dernière bande ( Krappe’s Last Tape), presented in French, reached into the stratosphere of delight.
Directed by the actor who played Krapp, M.Burke Walker, delivered a truly miraculous performance. My companion, a native speaker of French told me his French was not only perfect but indistinguishable from a native speaker. I appreciated his clear diction, his vocal gymnastics and his ability to engage the audience’s attention with very little external action. From the moment the lights went on, Mr. Walker created suspense and intrigue through physicality, facial expressions and psychic movement. Although the supertitles were a bit sketchy as all supertitles are, non-French speakers will have no difficulty understanding the text and will enjoy hearing his voice for the beauty of its resonance.
The author, Samuel Beckett, born in 1906 into an affluent Anglo-Irish Protestant family, spent most of his adult life in Paris and wrote in both English and French, and translated his works himself. La dernière band ( literally The Last Tape) was originally written in English, as Krapp’s Last Tape, for the Irish actor Patrick Magee and presented as a “curtain raiser” before Endgame at the Royal Court Theatre in London. ( N.B. The Royal Court is much like Seattle’s ACT theatre, a lot of new innovative plays open there)
La dernière bande opens in a fairly seedy room on Krapp’s 69th Birthday. Traditionally, he makes tape recordings on his birthdays as well as listening to past birthday recordings. The audience listens to the recordings of the 39-year old Krapp commenting on what he thought of his 20 year-old self and then Krapp comments as a 69 year old assessing who he was and anticipating what is to come. Mr. Walker demonstrated his vocal genius because when he spoke to the audience he spoke as an old man, but the tapes, which he had made himself, had all the vim and vigor of a confident 39 year old.
Many famous actors, Corin Redgrave, Harold Pinter and John Hurt have played this part. M. Burke Walker deserves to be mentioned with all of them.
The first piece, Act Without Words: Part I, was acted by Ray Tagavilla and directed by Carol Roscoe. It could have been subtitled: Everything in life really is working against you, even when you decide to end it all, you will be frustrated. A man is in a desert is trying to survive, various objects are dangled from the sky, but as he tries to use them, they are either taken away or something goes awry, hence our nameless hero is constantly frustrated. A bottle of water is dangled but when he cleverly finds a way to reach it, poof, it disappears. Finally he decides to hang himself, but that too is thwarted.
All in all it was an interesting enjoyable piece, the music, set and direction worked well; however, in order to pass off a non-verbal play in the style of a silent movie, the actor needed better physical mime skills than Ray Tagavilla possessed. He was adequate, but just not as brilliant as necessary.
The middle two pieces seemed to get all caught up in the minimalist theory of Beckett. He was an avant-garde playwright, whose work invented a new kind of theatre. His plays do not initially appear terribly accessible to an audience. Therefore, the director has to make sure that the material DOES become accessible. The first Rockaby starring Susanna Burney directed by A.J. Epstein was one long stream of consciousness monologue delivered as the thoughts of an old lady in a rocking chair in a fairly dark stage. Written with a lot of repetition, Ms. Burney spoke her lines monotonously , so unfortunately, it was difficult to stay awake.
Come and Go starring Rachel Delmar, Kate Kraay and Kate Sumpter also directed by A.J. Epstein suffered from a wooden delivery, extremely slow pacing, long empty pauses and was just ponderous. The script itself had a lot of potential but the director seemed to forget that there was an audience in front of the actors.
Life=Play is the opening number of a five-month long Beckett Festival involving 15 local theatres and colleges, where his well-know plays, Endgame and Waiting for Godot as well as his lesser known plays will be performed.
Life=Play, An Evening of Short Works and Rarities by Samuel Beckett. West of Lenin 203 N. 36th St. Fremont Seattle 98103. Thurs-Sat 8 pm Sun 2 pm. Aug. 13-24 Tickets(800) 838-3006 Brown Paper Tickets.
Seattle Beckett Festival Aug-Nov 2014 www.seattlebeckettfest.org