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Poetry, despair, tender humor illuminate Beckett's 'Fragments' by Peter Brook
NEW YORK (AP) ' Peter Brook has written that Samuel Beckett was falsely labeled as "despairing, negative, pessimistic," and so his treatment of five short Beckett texts in "Fragments" presents several of them with tender humor, not overlooking the somber poetry or haunting observations of human longings and frailties.
Theatre for a New Audience (TFANA), in association with the Baryshnikov Arts Center, is presenting the New York premiere of C.I.C.T./Theatre des Bouffes du Nord's "Fragments," a vigorous hourlong production co-directed by longtime artistic collaborators Brook and Marie-Helene Estienne. Brook made his observation about the false labels "first stuck on Beckett" in a program note.
The effective, thoughtful production, which opened Sunday night off-Broadway at the Baryshnikov Arts Center for a limited run, features three seasoned artists who have worked extensively with Theatre du Complicite: Jos Houben, Kathryn Hunter and Marcello Magni.
Houben and Magni perform wonderfully as worn remnants of clowns in "Rough for Theatre I," Magni as a blind, begging fiddler and Houben as a somewhat cheerful one-legged man who poles himself around in a makeshift wheelchair. In an abandoned, ruined town, they encounter one another and clumsily attempt to form an alliance, with darkly comical mixed results and undertones of hostility. Pestered with questions by Houben's character, Magni's eventually utters the defiant observation that he's "not unhappy enough to die."
In the mimed "Act Without Words II," the two men live in sacks, out of which they are alternately prodded each day, sharing a pointless routine and one set of clothing. Magni lends universal distress to his portrayal of a man who suffers throughout his day, hissing despair at every event, nonetheless engaging in delightful slapstick while getting the clothing on and off. Houben follows the routine with the opposite attitude, exuding brisk enthusiasm and self-satisfaction, conveyed with rubbery grins and happy glances at his watch.
The diminutive, expressive Hunter has two somber turns, staring with haunted eyes in "Rockaby" while reciting the hypnotically repetitive thoughts of a lonely woman despairing of her empty life. In the brief monologue, "Neither," she infuses the poem about quietly suffering with deep angst. Vital to the success of the whole presentation is the stark lighting by Philippe Vialatte, which in this scene makes Hunter appear spectral, almost as if speaking from the beyond.
The production ends on a fairly comical note, with the trio brightly dressed in women's clothing in "Come and Go." Three longtime female friends, Vi, Ruby and Flo meet on a park bench. They gossip frantically in pairs whenever one leaves the area, wistfully recalling jointly when everything that was ahead for them is now long gone, then form a complicated, symbolic handclasp.
Beckett and Brook might find some agreement that, even in the most desperate or melancholy situations, people can still find moments of poetry and humor amid the nothingness.