In his centenary year, Samuel Beckett has been honored with worldwide revivals of his plays, but with scant attention paid to his prose, except within academe. Redressing the balance is the husband-wife team of Conor Lovett and Judy Hegarty Lovett, who have adapted Beckett’s seminal fiction trilogy from the 1950s into an spell-binding marathon solo performance that brings out all the themes and poignancy of this supreme poet of mankind at its lowest ebb.
Team has redacted and streamlined each novel down to about an hour, excising significant characters and even the most famous passage of the entire work, “The Unnamable’s” closing monologue of alternating despair and conviction that ends, “I can’t go on, I’ll go on.”
But the famously protective Beckett estate cannot but approve, because what remains, at least as performed by Lovett, is a unified yet multifaceted portrait of the writer’s anguished modern man, trapped in a universe he never made (“I don’t know how long I’ve been here — I don’t know how I got here”) and longing for meaning and direction.
Stepping into a warm pool of light downstage center on an otherwise bare stage, the slight, balding, black-clad actor employs a minimum of gesture, movement and histrionic display to hold aud spellbound. A slight raise of his belly and deepened voice instantly evokes a cop; extending his arms in an arthritic gesture stunningly transforms him into a crone whose dog has been run over.
Dense passages that confuse and meander on the printed page come alive through Lovett’s light Cork accent, matter-of-fact delivery and wry sense of humor that survives all the pain.
“Molloy” gives voice to every homeless castoff. Trying to return to his cherished yet despised Ma, hassled by authority and bemused by responsibility, Molloy struggles to assert his selfhood.
“Malone Dies” offers a spirited if futile defense of the decision to reject mankind. “I forgive nobody. I wish them all an atrocious life and the fires and ice of hell.” Malone weaves a fairytale version of his life in an effort to invest it with magic, but cannot sustain the illusion; his emptiness is conveyed by Lovett in a series of astonishingly expressive dramatic pauses.
The pool of light disappears for “The Unnamable,” replaced by a single non-gelled lighting instrument on the floor, casting huge shadows on the back wall and exploiting Lovett’s uncanny resemblance to Munch’s “The Scream.” The unnamed, undefined speaker, standing at the very edge of the abyss, describes the impossibility of talking about or defining self — “I, of whom I know nothing” — and moves into the fractured speech we associate with the later “Godot” and “Endgame.” Yet he never stops reaching out to us in acknowledgment of our common burden of life: “There’s a story for you,” he keeps repeating.
Running through all three monologues is the sense of a man attempting to get things right. He corrects and second-guesses himself constantly, as if to say, “My whole being depends on my establishing the truth of vague memories. I need to arrive at a central understanding of how things could have worked out as they did.” No one in the audience doesn’t share that need for comprehension, which is why “The Beckett Trilogy” continues to speak so heartbreakingly to us all.
Tour de force is part of the Gare St. Lazare Players, Ireland, “Access All Beckett” international tour, alternating at UCLA with “Three Works” through Sunday, following which the Gate Theater, Dublin, arrives with “Waiting for Godot.”