Short and Sweet
On the Stage
Rough for Theatre I
Rough for Theatre II
Written by Samuel Beckett
Directed by Fred Pletcher
Produced by Marci Bobis and Michael Shin
At the Adams House Pocket Theatre Through March 8
ONE GETS THE sense that Sheppard, Stoppard, and Beckett are the three pillars of drama at Harvard. As I left the tiny theatre, I was asked what I thought of the three plays which I had just seen. Pausing, I replied "They were definitely Beckett." And keeping that in mind, they were also very well done.
Rough for Theatre I etches out the unexpected meeting of a blind beggar and a wheelchair-bound cripple. While many of Beckett's plays are about "endings" that can't happen, Rough I is about an impossible beginning. After exchanging anecdotes about the miserableness of their lives, the two principal characters realize that they might be able to live together and derive solace from each other's company as each has something that the other lacks. But the pride of the cripple (played by Eric Oleson) and the dreamy quality of beggar (Harold Langsam) render this plan unworkable.
Langsam does a splendid job as the blind man--particularly considering that the black sunglasses he wears deny him the full use of his eyes as a means of expression. Oleson portrays the cripple as an older man, with an old man's slightly confused temperament. These two work well together on stage, neither seems to want a piece of the other's limelight. The evolution of their relationship parallels that of many first meetings: they move through periods of curiosity, and then chumminess before realizing that they are fundamentally incompatible. As they move through these phases, Langsam and Oleson reveal their characters' idiosynetacies artfully and gradually.
THE SECOND PLAY of the set, Footfalls, is of a completely different nature than Rough I. The set is minimalist, and the lighting harsh, low, and unidirectional. In Footfalls, Beckett explores the absurdity of the human situation through a dialogue between a daughter and mother. The problem--if it really is a problem--with Footfalls is that it is impossible to determine who is the mother and who is the daughter. The play thus becomes very impressionistic, with no evidence of a climax or resolution--but then again, this is Beckett's fundamental opinion about life.
ONE OF THE two characters never appears on stage, but her unamplified voice (Susan Schwartz) provides a spine-tingling presence which at times actually upstages--so to speak--the woman in view.
Rough for Theatre II, the most upbeat and fast-paced play of the three, also stars Langsam and Oleson. Here they don trenchcoats and nose glasses to become "assassins" pouring over documents to determine whether a man should commit suicide.
The cheery `business as usual' nature of the bantering between Langsam and Oleson as they sort through the evidence is at odds with the fundamental morbidity of the subject. The beauty of Rough II is that we become attached with the assassins as they are in the process of deciding the man's fate. Beckett wants us to realize that this is precisely what happens in the endless tedium that constitutes most of our existences. When you're busy, you haven't got time to think about being miserable.
The man under investigation (played by Stefan Korpalski) is on stage throughout the sequence, frozen with his back to the audience for the entire play. With no offense intended, Korpalski is excellent in this role. Langsam and Oleson are even more impressive in Rough II than they are in Rough I, in part because this time, the polarity of their magnetism is reversed; here they are a team.
Despite the sullen tone of the three plays, they must, upon reflection, be seen as optimistic. Beckett shows that even in a world that is nihilistic, man cannot bring himself to be a true nihilist. In Rough I, the cripple asks the beggar why he doesn't just do himself in. The beggar replies, "I'm unhappy, but I'm not unhappy enough."