Troy Foundry Theatre and Beckett ponder the mystery of existence
I once had a holistic doctor try to explain to me his view of traditional medicine. He drew a large circle. Inside that circle he drew a very small circle. Inside the small circle he placed a dot.
He said the dot represented what we know. The small circle represented what we don’t know. The large expanse of the bigger circle was what we don’t know that we don’t know.
In theater, Samuel Beckett was a playwright who wrote about what we don’t know that we don’t know. There is no clarity to his work. The attraction is our intuitive awareness to the unknown that he explores.
A perfect example of this sense of unknown is on display with the Troy Foundry Theatre’s production of “Echo Chambers: Beckett 3”, playing at the Hart Cluett Museum in Troy through June 18. It consists of three short monologues, “Footfalls,” “Rockaby” and “Not I’. Each is performed by a solo female actor.
“Footfalls” features Angelique Powell, called May. She paces the stage for precisely nine steps and a swirl, which is repeated throughout the play. While in motion she holds a conversation with her unseen mother who at times claims to be 90 years old, at other times 40.
Directed by Ethan Botwick, the obscure conversation and repetitive action never becomes tedious. When on the occasions Powell stands quietly and directly addresses the audience, the duo conspire to bring us directly into the puzzle of May’s mind. Is this an inner monologue with a real person or a fictional conversation that exists only in her mind?
Like the other two plays, there are no answers. Beckett wants us to ponder what we don’t know and what we can’t know. As confusing as it sounds, if not enlightening, it is freeing, as it transports you to a place that exists without really existing. There’s no right, no wrong. You have only your thoughts on what is happening.
The second piece is “Rockaby” which features an elderly woman, called W, who sits in a rocking chair that seems to move by itself. Played by Eliana Rowe, who directs herself, W sits silently in near total darkness as a recorded voice (her own) offers a monotone reflection of their lives. By the end of the piece one assumes the conversation is the dying reflection of a person’s final hours.
As an aside, I was privileged to attend the world premiere of “Rockaby” in 1981. As a middle-aged man I found different insights to the work as compared to those I have 41 years later. That is the beauty of Beckett and his view of life and death. His works are not definitive. They are filled, not with truths, only clues about the meaning of reality and existence.
This point is made with enormous power in the final piece, “Not I.” Performed by Shannon Rafferty and directed by David Girard, the stage is illuminated only by the lips of the actor. Combined with the frenetic pace of the work that seems to be an hallucinatory tale of a horrid experience. The experience is never stated clearly, but Rafferty, as do the other actors, make it painfully clear the dread with which all speak is both real and powerful.
Though each segment is wonderfully mysterious, there seems to be a common link between the three. One guess is the common dread is life and the lack of power one has over it.
An equally justifiable interpretation is that existence is fragmentary and we waste our time trying to figure it out. Memories are a figment of our imagination. In other words we can’t know what we don’t know exists – or doesn’t exist.
Considering the works are performed in near-total darkness, the lighting design by Botwick combined with the sound design by Travis Wright is remarkable in that they are essential to the moods of each play. Beckett’s power is in the almost mystical poetic language he creates. But as the ultimate minimalist the visual elements in his work are equally as powerful.
“Echo Chambers … “ is certainly not a work for anyone who needs clarity or resolution from a theater experience. Indeed, it’s not only justifiable for those who are content to live knowing only what they know; it’s comforting.
And, oddly, even those who want to know what they don’t know likely won’t find it from this Troy Foundry production. But it certainly will have you pondering thoughts about life and existence that are new to you.
Just as likely, Sam Beckett would be disappointed if those thoughts offered you any clarity about life itself.
“Echo Chamber: Beckett 3” continues through June 18 at Hart Cluett Museum, 57 2nd Street, Troy NY 12180. For information go to troyfoundrytheatre.com
Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.
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