Best Beckett Ever

In my opinion, the best Beckett play ever is … Play.  And I came to this conclusion before ever seeing the 2000 film version, directed by Anthony Minghella and starring Alan Rickman, Juliet Stevenson, and Kristen Scott Thomas–though seeing Minghella’s adaptation did further cement my love for this piece.  On stage, this work is ‘no frills,’ modern macabre theatre at its best.

For anyone not familiar, the play contains three characters (2F, 1M) who remain in urns the entire time; only their heads are visible.  The actors have the peculiar task of embodying disembodiment.  The three exist in a purgatorial space in which they obsessively recount their individual roles in an adulterous love triangle. The play’s story and themes are personal and universal, darkly funny and completely frightening–a taste of what it would be like if our worst experiences in the flesh could haunt us to the grave indefinitely.

I first saw a production of Play 10 years ago when I was in Dublin for graduate school.  I’m sure I still have the playbill somewhere, but I can’t remember offhand the name of the theatre (dammit!).  In spite of my poor memory regarding the playbill details of this occasion, the play and performance really struck me.  I remember being baffled by how a piece of theatre that involves no physical activity other than facial movement could actually move an audience, but it does.  In Play dialogue IS action.

In this particular production, the ‘talking heads’ were lit, not by a spotlight, but by a flashlight.  Were it not for the high caliber of the acting, the production might have felt like something that could have been pulled off at home, in a garage, or in a campground tent after midnight.  The script places great demands on actors, requiring tremendous vocal dexterity and brisk delivery of lines, many of which are repeated several times.  Thepace is a bit dizzying, but it couldn’t be done differently and still be effective.

What’s your favorite Beckett play and/0r production and why?


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