Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Radio Plays Brought to Stage

Three Plays by Samuel Beckett


by Samuel Beckett
Directed by Robert Estes
Anton's Well Theater Company
St. Alban's Church, Albany
Thursday, Friday, Saturday until March 21, 2020

Reviewed by Christine Okon

I did not know that Samuel Beckett wrote radio plays, but indeed he did, to varying degrees of success. Thanks to the intrepid literary spelunking and creative foraging of Robert Estes, director of Anton’s Well Theatre Company, three of Beckett’s radio plays are being staged at the tiny St. Alban’s Church in Albany.

The three short plays, “A Piece of Monologue,” “Embers,” and “All That Fall,” are experiments that Beckett himself didn’t seem to hold dear. Although the storylines are hard to follow in this production, Beckett’s lyricism, language, imagery, and unexpected twists persist. While the script for a radio play employs sound effects to help create a listener’s “theater of the mind,” it may not always map well to a live stage performance. For the current production, eliminating some of the sound effects may help the audience focus on the story.

The first play, “A Piece of Monologue,” was written in 1978. The Speaker (Keith Jefferds), an elderly and loquacious man who sometimes talks about himself in the third person, pours forth memories, judgments, and fears about his death at the end of the “two and a half billion seconds” of his life and the “black vast” that awaits. Jefferds masterfully immerses himself in the pain of this character who, as if in self-protection, has swept photos and memories “under the bed with the dust and spiders” and laments that the “dead are gone, and the dying are going.” Jefferds captures the lyricism and musicality, the Irishness and ruggedness, that is so Beckett; his performance evokes King Lear.

Gigi Benson, Kenneth Matis, Keith Jefferds, Brian Levi, Evan D. Winet, Jeff Prescott, Sarah Elizabeth 

The second piece, “Embers” (1959), is about a tormented man riding waves of grief and regret. Here we are treated to profound, solid acting by Brian Levi as Henry and Sarah Elizabeth as the memory of his wife Ada. The sea is the setting and nearly a character in itself, and the inclusion of ocean sounds helps create the mood which is disrupted when Henry “foot-syncs” to the sound of mud-sucked steps.  “Embers” is a good example of the expansive “skullscape” of interior monologues Beckett creates with his characters who traverse up and down their memories only to relive the original anguish. Sometimes it is difficult to discern words and story, but the passion, music, and beauty of the language is as mesmerizing as waves approaching and retreating.

After the success of “Waiting for Godot '' in France in 1957, the BBC invited Beckett to create a radio play, the result being “All That Fall” which is the weakest of the three pieces. Intended as a biting comedy about the mishaps of the dotty, overweight, old Irish bird Mrs. Rooney (Gigi Benson), this production is all over the place with sporadic sound effects like cows mooing and wheels screeching that are more distracting than expository; although they appear in the script, the use of sound needs editing and better execution. In addition, actors (Kenneth Matis and Evan D. Winet, both expert) play dual characters who are not distinctly differentiated, making it hard to follow who is who; perhaps change in costume or posture might help. “All That Fall” may have had a different impact in the original BBC production, but here it created confused, boring chaos.

For these plays, Beckett’s lyricism, passion, and language transcend incidental problems with physical execution. In Anton’s Well’s production of the three radio plays, the superb acting is the wheat surrounded by chaff.

Three Plays by Samuel Beckett,”directed by Robert Estes. Anton’s Well Theater Company, St. Alban’s Church. Info: antonswell.org

A Piece of Monologue
Speaker -  Keith Jefferds

Henry - Brian Levi
Ada - Sarah Elizabeth

All That Fall
Mrs. Rooney - Gigi Benson
Christy / Mr. Barrell - Kenneth Matis
Mr. Tyler - Jeff Trescott
Mr. Slocum / Mr. Rooney - Evan D. Winet
Miss Fitt - Sarah Elizabeth
Female Voice / Dolly - Michele Delattre

Director - Robert Estes
Sound Design - Michael A. O’Brien
Lighting Design - Nate Bogner
Assistant Director, Producing Associate, Program Design, and much more - Wm. Diedrick Razo
Photography - Jane Shamaeva

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