For better or for worse, walking from the DC Metro to one’s place of business as the snow falls or the wind blows inevitably forces the brain to digest daily life differently. Winter madness, some refer to it as, but madness has its place, as does solitude, as does memory, as does the bitter cold.
3 by Samuel Beckett, from the Arcturus Theater Company, takes solitude and memory by the horns in this collection of three short plays: That Time, Embers, and Rough for Theatre II, Ross Heath’s directing debut.
Upon entering the small and solid space, tucked away in Adams Morgan’s DC Arts Center, I was immediately struck by its controlled silence. The black-box theatre uses its space smartly, a single wide post cloaked in back drapery stands off-center upstage. From here the production’s opening piece, That Time, is delivered – a dreamy and heavy stream of consciousness journey.
Listener (Brit Herring), a mystical and mysterious figure, stands unmoving, reciting a series of memories from his past and present. He recalls the loneliness of childhood, untouched love and solitude of adulthood, and a painful, more confusing present in which he’s forced to reflect on the difference between memory and truth.
The piece is striking in the way the delivered memories move through the audience, and seep in through the skin. The peacefully eerie lighting (Eric Wells), the stage darkened, save a solitary spotlight on Listener’s face, lends to the experience – this piece is above all, an experience – and Herrings’s elocution and nuanced delivery allow memory to be hazy without sacrificing meaning. A fitting piece for a January night.
In Embers, initially conceptualized for the radio, we meet Henry (John Brennan), an isolated, middle-aged gentlemen lost in the crevices of his mind, conversing with the dead and all but breaking down. Henry sits in the front of the stage, playing chess with himself and rising to recall memories. It is a brilliant use of sound infused, which within the space, creates an uncomfortable feeling of existing just beyond reality’s break.
Visibly tormented by his past and present, Henry speaks to key figures in his life who have passed away or are somehow estranged (Wendy Wilmer, Anastasiya Orlova, Joe Shaffner), struggling to remember details and struggling to understand their significance. John Brennan’s performance is stunning, nothing short of mastery. A sort of performance akin to watching a slow motion explosion, impossible to turn away from, startling and raw. Embers is painful in a way that haunts, a way that leaves a mark.
3 by Samuel Beckett
Closes February 3, 2012
by Arcturas Theater Company
at DC Arts Center
2438 18th Street NW
1 hour, 50 minutes with 1 intermission
Thurs – Sunday
Rough for Theatre II, the final piece, introduces us to Crooker (Peter J. Orvetti), a man contemplating suicide as two ragtag angel types, Morvan (Ned Read) and Bertrand (Kim Curtis) appear to evaluate the man’s life. Crooker stands unmoving in the background as the two sift through papers and testimony of friends and family, quarreling over the circumstances and over each other. Should he be saved? Should he jump? While giving the evening a humorous landing, and giving the audience a handful of laughs, the rhythm of the piece is of a different nature than the 1st act, creating a slight feeling of disjointedness and a break in production’s momentum.
Though strategically understated in its presentation, details in the production aren’t overlooked. The costumes even add their own commentary and perspective to the plays (Adalia Vera Tonneyck), from the red marred on Henry’s jacket, to the angel wings drawn on Morvan’s leather vest. An undercurrent of isolation and despair run through 3 by Samuel Beckett. That’s unavoidable. But an outpouring of feeling runs through it as well, and that’s beautiful.
I walked out the space, silent once again, through the lobby’s art gallery, down the stairs and into Adam’s Morgan. The night air was sharp, 18th Street nearly deserted, and as I faced the wind I recalled the final scene in Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions. Upon meeting his creator, long-suffering Kilgore Trout is told he’ll be set free of his miserable life, the painful existence has been enduring thus far. The creator leaves satisfied, leaving Trout to his thoughts, but Trout yells after him, a single demand into the night: “Make me young!” he cries. “Make me young.”
3 By Samuel Beckett by Samuel Beckett . Directed by Ross Heath . Featuring Brit Herring, John Brennan, Wendy Wilmer, Joe Shaffner, Anastasiya Orlova, Kim Curtis, Ned Read, and Peter J. Orvetti. Produced by Arcturus Theater Company . Reviewed by Sarah Ameigh