“Life=Play” Four Short Works by Samuel Beckett at West of Lenin

Samuel Beckett Art by Kathryn RathkeDon’t you love living in a place where theatre is dynamic, there’s lots of it, and it takes chances? How many cities of Seattle’s size can mount or would even consider mounting a Beckett Festival? The Seattle Beckett Festival that runs through November and involves 16 arts organizations opened this past weekend at West of Lenin with four of the master’s short works. If this presentation is any indication of the quality of the performances and conversations coming up, we have a lot to look forward to.

“Come and Go”, the shortest of the pieces and most inscrutable, features three young women (Rachel Delmar, Kate Kraay, Kate Sumpter), all dressed in similar long coats, all with faces partially covered by stylish cloches. Each has something to whisper to one other; each is the recipient of only one intimacy. You are left to speculate about these secrets and their meaning as the women link hands at the end.

“Rockaby” features a woman (Susanna Burney) slowly rocking in a chair that seems to move by some supernatural force on a darkened stage. Even she is somewhat shadowed. This quiet, dark work brings thoughts of Whistler’s “Mother”, of Bishop Berkeley’s “to be is to be perceived”, and that old spiritual about rocking right up to those Pearly Gates. It’s the genius of Beckett that so very much is implied by so very little.

In “Act Without Words” Ray Tagavilla is “every man” tormented, teased, and tricked by life. It’s a wonderfully funny work that symbolically expresses human frustrations. It’s delightful clowning, and can be enjoyed as such. But of course, there’s so much more for anyone who wants to mine this pantomimed piece for its philosophical depth.

And finally, the longest work, “Krapps Last Tape” performed by M. Burke Walker. Originally written in English, this is performed in Beckett’s French translation with English supertitles. It’s a breathtaking, mesmerizing work, presented here with great finesse, one of those experiences that won’t easily be forgotten. Its every gesture, its silences counterposed with random acts and jumbled memories are loaded with meaning. Simply thrilling theatre.

Acting in each one of these pieces is superb as are production values. High praise goes to Directors A. J. Epstein (“Rockaby” and “Come and Go”) and Carol Roscoe (“Act Without Words”) and M. Burke Walker (“Krapp’s Last Tape).

Go! You’ll be amused, tantalized, puzzled, amazed, and so glad you had the experience.

Through August 24, West of Lenin, 203 N 36th St., Seattle, (Brownpapertickets or www.seattlebeckettfest.org)

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