The Beckett Circle, Fall 2001
Audience members received instructions to wait at the corner of Pierce and Leavitt, a tree-lined neighborhood of vintage apartment buildings and elegant turn of the century homes. By eight o’clock on September 9, a crowd of about eighty playgoers gathered, very young and very fashionable with their black leather jackets gleaming in the lamplight. Members of the company came down the street to explain the rules; spectators would be led to the performance site in groups of twenty, and the play would run as many times as necessary to accommodate the crowd.
The groups walked with their leaders about a block away to an old apartment with bay windows and made their way up the stairs and into the living of a flat on the second story. Most of the furniture had been cleared away and what remained was draped in white cloth. Bathed in shadow, a dark figure lay silent in a rocking chair in the front window. The audience knelt on the floor and lined the walls within a few feet of the chair. The lights raised to reveal the actor Katie Taber and the eight-minute monologue began.
This production, for which the tape recording was designed and engineered by Mike Frank, contained two features that, while upsetting initial expectations, ultimately illuminated the possibilities of the play. The setting added a layer of street sounds that floated in through the open windows, thus bringing unpredictable and sometimes rich counterpoints to the spoken words. The other production twist was that the actor Katie Taber was young and beautiful, costumed in a black vintage dress with a hint of red petticoats. Her appearance allowed spectators to see the memory of wholeness and happiness that suffuses the elderly character’s narrative of breakdown and decay. Her body seemed deeply relaxed, the angles of spine and head worked like brush strokes to suggest pain, age, and withdrawal. The language ebbed, rushed, and repeated without ever seeming monotonous or unnatural. Though the play explores the experience of aging and the approach of dissolution, the ultimate effect is not depressing. Memories, characters, and voices fill the room to make a profound case for how much life can be distilled from the most diminished human situations.
This company has great faith in Beckett’s words. In a conversation after the performance, Artistic Director Joanna Settle explained that a new generation is being drawn to Beckett because “the language is impeccable. . . They see something beautiful, satisfying, and pure.” Recalling her first encounters with Beckett, she said, “I responded to Beckett. I didn’t have to reach for a response. It was there, and I thought it would be there for my peers.” Settle believes that site-specific productions present the plays in a setting chosen to enhance the audience’s experience of a particular piece, as opposed to the one-size-fits-all ambiance of a black box theatre.
– Eileen Seifert –
Chicago Reader, September 7, 2001
What makes Settle’s productions truly remarkable, however, are not the gimmicks but the performances. This production, presented by Division 13, succeeds on the basis of Katie Taber’s exquisite voice. Reading Beckett’s dry, laconic prose, Taber releases all the play’s freighted subtext–just the way she pronounces “another” speaks volumes about her character’s repressed rage, disappointment, and sexual frustration.
– Jack Helbig –