Theatre/Theater inaugurates its seventh Los Angeles-based legit house in 24 years with a bleak but facile perusal of three short works by one of the 20th century’s most elusive scripters, Samuel Beckett. Helmer R.S. Bailey, the first American invited by Beckett to work with him, captures the playwright’s stark, minimalist, deeply pessimistic view of human nature and the human condition. In an eerie exercise in underachievement, Bailey’s competent thesps immerse themselves in the jagged sounds and rhythms of Beckett’s desolate folks, sublimating any flicker of human aspiration.
The short opening works, “Rough for Theater 1” and “Footfalls,” focus on the underbelly of human interaction. Each offers a sliver of the extreme negativity people are capable of when trapped in relationships.
More a work-in-progress than a viable stage play, “Rough for Theater 1” is an exercise in emotional torture, as a wretched, blind street beggar (Billy Hayes) is confronted by a vociferous cripple in a wheelchair (Jeff Murray). As each maneuvers to serve his own self-interest, their life-scarred psyches obliterate any possibility of them uniting for their common good.
With a more realized concept, “Footfalls” impressively distills the lifelong adversarial relationship between a grown daughter (Mary Dryden) and her heard but unseen mother (Nicolette Chaffey). Dryden’s May personifies the never-ending friction of their relationship by scraping her feet across a stone floor as she methodically paces back and forth, periodically responding to the disapproving voice of mom. Dryden counterpoints the tragedy of May’s existence by performing a hopeful little pirouette each time she turns to retrace her dogged steps.
“Krapp’s Last Tape” focuses on one cathartic evening in the life of a 69-year-old recluse (Bailey), a desolate soul who has never been able to carry though on any of his life’s goals. Krapp’s failures are underscored by the spools of recorded tapes he has painstakingly labeled and chronicled through the years.
The tapes represent a spoken diary of his life; Bailey creates a tantalizing pas de deux between Krapp’s current state of mind and his more youthful recorded persona. Bailey impressively communicates Krapp’s rage, torment and sadness as he listens to a tape, recorded 30 years earlier, describing a moment on a boat with a girl “in a shabby green coat” when he could have made a decision that would have changed his life.
Bailey’s stark production design, complemented by the empathetic lights and sounds of Ammil Garrison and Michael Shiver, respectively, offers the properly austere setting for the jaundiced efforts of a playwright who had little faith in humankind.