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Saturday, February 18, 2012

Review: (Toronto) Beckett: Feck It!

Laura Condlln, Shannon Mercer and Sofia Tomic (Photo by John Lauener)

See It!
A Beckett noob gets bit
by Stuart Munro
I confess. Even though I went to a performing arts school, I don’t know anything about Samuel Beckett. Certainly the name had come up more than once, and I knew the title of Waiting for Godot, but that was the extent of my experience. (It was a music theatre school. Ask me about Sondheim sometime.) So I didn’t know what to expect from the opening night of Queen of Puddings Music Theatre’s Beckett: Feck It!
I certainly didn’t expect to love it.
Beckett: Feck It! combines four of the shorter plays by the Irish playwright with more contemporary Irish classical music which the playbill asserts is “inspired by his work.” The formula feels a bit artificial, as if the creators were looking for a way to link the plays together with something more than a fade out/fade in. But even given that, the structure works; the music and song always have the same tone and energy of what’s preceded or what’s to come. Soprano Shannon Mercer possesses a beautiful and clear voice and delivers all the music in convincing German and Irish. Ms. Mercer appears in one of the short plays as well and manages to hold her own alongside the more seasoned actors.
It may seem difficult, at first, to assess the ability of any actor in a play with virtually no dialogue...

The production stars two veterans of Canadian theatre, Laura Condlln and Tom Rooney, both of whom have several years at Stratford under their belt. Alongside them are two newcomers, Michal Grezjszczak and Sofia Tomic, both recent graduates from the Ryerson Theatre School. It may seem difficult, at first, to assess the ability of any actor in a play with virtually no dialogue (the first play is titled “Act Without Words II”), but what is said in silence can be equally as profound, and all four actors excel, whether speaking or not.
Directors Jennifer Tarver, Dáirine Ní Mheadhra, and John Hess have chosen their material carefully. The plays, while seemingly unconnected, all have a cyclical structure and could continue ad infinitum. Behind each one is an important, if seemingly simple, life lesson. Only the final play, “Ohio Impromptu,” breaks the cycle, allowing the evening to end.
...it manages to simultaneously create an oppressive and expansive atmosphere...

The production’s design is fairly simple and serves to suggest a mood more than anything. Set and costume designer Teresa Przybylski has clothed the actors in vaguely early twentieth century working class apparel (save Shannon Mercer’s gorgeous red dress), and the set creates a rolling landscape that seems to come down from the sky and continue onto the land. Again, the playbill tells us this is meant to represent the “low cloudy Irish skies that always seem to hug the Earth. . . .” Somehow, it manages to simultaneously create an oppressive and expansive atmosphere, no doubt aided by Kimberly Purtell’s lighting.
My only complaint would be the tone of the latter plays. The first play is a seemingly lighthearted commentary on our interconnectedness, but the laughing more or less ends here. I don’t say this to imply the evening stopped being entertaining, I simply wanted to laugh a bit more. I also would’ve liked music presented in the same language as the plays themselves. I know Beckett was Irish and spoke German, but these language additions, while fitting musically, seemed a little incongruous. The playbill credits a SURTITLES designer, but these were missing from Friday night’s performance. A translation is provided in the playbill, but it’s always nice to be able to have it in context.
These grumbles are minor, however, and I left the theatre marveling at how so much could be said with so little. Beckett: Feck It! is an evening of theatre that will surprise, entertain, and challenge you, all in the short span of seventy minutes. It shouldn’t be missed.

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