Maryland Stage pays tribute to Beckett

November 15, 1990|By Winifred Walsh | Winifred Walsh,Evening Sun Staff

A night of splendid imagery and lyrical, unvarnished poetic prose is being presented by the Maryland Stage Company in their current production of "A Tribute to Samuel Beckett," continuing tonight through Saturday in the UMBC Theater.

The great Irish writer who received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969 passed away last year leaving behind a rich legacy of works, among them the timeless classic, "Waiting for Godot."

The Maryland Stage Company, in residence at UMBC, has chosen to present three of Beckett's strongest (and shortest) plays: "Not I" (1972), "Ohio Impromptu" (1980), "Rockaby" (1981)."

A proponent of existential philosophical thought Beckett's spare, pure literary style is concerned with the anguished, inner voice of the human spirit. This silent voice reflects on the pain of alienation -- the terrors and mysteries of life rather than the obvious, outward trappings of a materialistic world.

The essence of the mind and its inability to comprehend the "why" of being that permeates all of the author's plays and novels is often flecked with a bitter humor that arises from the futile human condition.

The abstract stream of consciousness storytelling technique manifests in pungent observations of the self. Some voices avoid self-truth and others painfully recall it. The mind calls other "observers" onto the scene who are often fragmented parts of the original self.

Like the realities of mind conversations, Beckett's dialogue repeats and repeats but there is musical rhythm to the repetition.

Director Xerxes Mehta and a top-rate cast have superbly interpreted Beckett's bare-bones, poetic prose with a minimum of physical movement to allow total audience concentration on the strong word power of the plays.

All three productions are couched in darkness representing the murky shadows of the mind. In "Not I" a woman's red lips emerge from the blackness. Nothing else is visible except this constantly moving mouth.

Excellently portrayed by Wendy Salkind, the mouth (in third person singular) excitedly spews its sordid litany of a desolately led life. The lips race on at a breakneck (but articulate) speed, panicked at its own life revelations -- constantly denying the "I" factor.

All the while the faint form of a male auditor (Seth Goldstein) is a questionable silent attendant.

"Ohio Impromptu" (Beckett wrote the play for Ohio State University) two male figures, mirror images, are sitting at a long table. Both have long white hair and are wearing long black robes. Their white faces seem to float ghostlike in the darkness.

One man (Sam McCready) is reading a story to the intent listener (Walter Bilderback) who is mourning a lost friendship. The story so compellingly told in mesmerizing fashion by McCready is the listener's own personal haunting.

At the scene's conclusion both figures look squarely at each other knowing there is nothing left to tell. The reader and listener are one. This is powerful stuff.

The final offering, "Rockaby," is the only play in actual verse form. In this moving piece enacted with a lovely ethereal quality by Alice Robinson, an old woman (all in black) sits in her mother's rocking chair, rolling to and fro, calling on her "other voice" of memory to ward off the finality of dying.

Robinson's face is a remarkable white mask, almost otherworldly. We hear and feel the pain of her awful loneliness and are touched when her fragile protest against death fails her in the end.

The compelling minimal sets, costumes and makeup are by Richard Montgomery and the creative lighting and sound by Lewis Shaw.

Largo Desolato'

Vaclav Havel's play, "Largo Desolato," is being staged by students and community actors at Villa Julie College through Saturday. The play (a serious drama with ironic humor) is based on the Czechoslovakian president's own experiences while branded a dissident in his own country.

In this slow-paced work directed too heavily by Muriel Heineman, Jerry Hicks gives an earnest performance as the fearful writer, Leopold. Local actor Wayne Knickel stands out in a minor role.

To honor the occasion President Havel sent the Villa Julie troupe a personal letter urging them "to break a leg."

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