The ghost of a lost love, the dissonance of a musical trio, and the frustrations of a writer seeking to put his passion into words were all captured yesterday in the opening night of three usually neglected works by Irish playwright Samuel Beckett.
The three plays, originally produced in April 2006 to commemorate what would have been Beckett’s 100th birthday, were part of the inaugural series for the New College Theatre. Robert Scanlan, a professor of theater who knew Beckett personally, directed the plays, and Martin Pearlman, founder and conductor of the Boston Baroque, composed the music.
All of Beckett’s plays—including the three on stage last night, “Words and Music,” “Cascando,” and “...but the clouds...”—are “one person, one consciousness,” Scanlan said in his opening remarks.
The first play, “Words and Music,” displayed the frustrations of the creative process: a writer, Joe, and Bob, a character personified by the musical trio, worked with and against each other to create art.
The duo first tried to capture love through words, but Joe’s attempts quickly descended into clichés.
Then, Joe and Bob tried to capture age, but they failed there too.
Finally, they tried to capture “the face”—a vision of a lost love. While they were able to achieve some meaning, this soon came to an abrupt end when the elderly man who’d been leading their creative endeavor simply stood up and walked away.
The second play, “Cascando,” continued this theme, with a writer desperate to finish the ultimate story before going to sleep.
But his desperation to finish the story, about a man named Woburn, only drove him deeper into madness.
In the meantime, another character, known as “The Opener,” sat on a chair at center-stage, as if on a throne.
When he’d open one box, the light would shine on the writer, who would come to life. But when The Opener closed the box, the writer would freeze, and his side of the stage would darken. Then, when The Opener opened the box on the other side, the musical trio would start playing.
The Opener himself showed signs of being a misunderstood artist: “They say, he opens nothing, he has nothing to open, it’s in his head.”
The third play, “...but the clouds...,” was recorded by a video camera, and the recording was displayed on a large projection screen. A character spoke hauntingly about his lost beloved: “When I thought of her, it was always night.”
On the screen, black-and-white images of the lost beloved and a figure walking in various long costumes were displayed.
After the show, audience members praised the performance.
“The acting, the directing, and the music created this wonderful ensemble effect,” said Daniel Aaron, an emeritus professor of English.
Jim Senti, a first-year student in the theater graduate program at the American Repertory Theatre, said that he had performed these three plays at Butler University in Indianapolis.
“It was very interesting to see it in a different way. It’s always interesting to see them perform it on stage, considering they were created for radio and television,” he said.
The first two plays, which were intended to be performed on radio, were recorded on audio last night, while the third play, intended for television, was videotaped. The recordings are going into Harvard’s archives.
Scanlan said in an interview that he hoped to bring the show to New York, Paris, Rome, and Dublin.
He said that performing Beckett as part of the New College Theatre’s inaugural series represents an auspicious beginning.
“I personally think it sacralizes the place to perform Beckett here,” he said. “I just think doing Beckett early in the life of a theater is bound to bring it good luck.”