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Settle’s performers (A. Deacetis, M. Rodgers, and K. Taber) speak their lines with the kind of crisp, intelligent clarity that only actors who know and love their Beckett can achieve. Even more delightful is how gracefully they negotiate the play’s mood swings, winning laughs one minute with the blackest of jokes, moving us the next with the richness and perversity of Beckett’s characters. The mischievous Irishman in him might also appreciate a production that uses the conventional elements of a department-store window–a start but engaging setting, people in otherworldly poses, sound piped to the streets–to reincarnate his austere work.
– Jack Helbig –
In a heart-piercing moment, on of the two women in Samuel beckett’s Play cries out, “Is anyone listening? Can anyone hear us?” One dark Sunday evening in Chicago this past fall, the answer was most emphatically yes. Forty rapt listeners stood on the rain-spattered pavement of Wicker Park as Play unfolded in the display window of the Right On Futon Shop. The actors’ voices reached the audience on the street through speakers attached to the exterior of the building. This unusual production, part of the Around-the-Coyote Festival, was produced by Thirteenth Tribe Theatre Company and Right On Futon, September 9-12, 1999, and was directed by Joanna Settle who has also directed Waiting for Godot at the Julliard School.
The locale–a shop window–might seem controversial, especially in view of Beckett’s objection to any modification of the setting of his plays, most vigorously expressed in his suit to prevent Joanne Akalaitis from setting Endgame in a subway station. However, Settle and her set designer Mark Bello stayed very close to Beckett’s stage directions. The window contained a gray cave-like background with the actors performing in gray classical urns that came up to their necks. The lighting supervisor Ruth Helms, used a single light source “expressive of a single inquisitor” in an effort to follow Beckett’s detailed instructions.
Play is one of Beckett’s many dramatic experiments in physical immobility combined with virtuoso verbal agility. Its success in production depends very much on the ability of the actors to speak clearly and intelligibly while making lightning-like shifts of mood and tone. The Thirteenth Tribe company served Beckett well. Even with the noise of city traffic, the actors’ words were clear and spoken with riveting commitment. The casting, however, did provide an unexpected twist. The program and all publicity and press materials listed the performers as A. DeAcetis (“W 2”), M. Rogers (“M”) and K. Taber (W1”). At the 8:30 performance on Sunday, September 12, some audience members started to nudge each other as they listened to Rogers. Something in the timbre of the voice made at least a few spectators wonder, and indeed, the press kit revealed that the first name of the only Rogers in the company is “Megan.” At no time did the performance give the slightest nod to its non-traditional casting, a potentially more daring choice than the futon store window venue itself. On the other hand, the physical identities of the actors did not seem to matter that much in a play where what counts above all is language.
The power of the production was undeniable. Intensely interested audiences of forty to sixty people stood on the sidewalk for the full forty minutes in chilly, wet autumn weather. According to company member DeAcetis, attendance was especially good at the midnight showings. Spectators ranged from enthusiastic Beckettians eager to see the play on stage to a group of curious young men in matching leather jackets who kept nodding at each other and murmuring, “Weird” and “Cool.” Even when the play was not in performance the name of Samuel Beckett in bold black and white signage leapt out at the corner of Division and Milwaukee, a solid working class neighborhood now favored by emerging artists. There was no admission charge, only a passed hat for this excellent production. this play about death and loss truly came to life in this populist setting.
– Eileen Seifert –