Theater Department Stages Four Samuel Beckett Shorts
Amir Hatef, in the role of Protagonist in the “Catastrophe” scene glances out toward the crowd for the upcoming theater performance of Samuel Beckett Quartet at the Santa Monica College Main Stage on Friday, October 28, 2016. (Rosangelica Vizcarra)
The sound of a choir constantly chanting numbers hums throughout the room. It’s an excerpt from “Einstein on the Beach” by Philip Glass, but you wouldn’t know that.
All you’re wondering is when the show begins.
"Quartet: Samuel Beckett's Short Plays," is being presented at SMC's Theater Arts complex stage through early November. This is opening night for this production of the Nobel Prize winning, avant-garde novelist, playwright, director, and poet's work.
Director Perviz Sawoski is nowhere to be seen as theater students, Jordan Barksdale and Brooke Jones, give a rather humorous introduction about what the night entails.
Because his works are timeless it seems almost inevitable that a few Samuel Beckett plays would inevitably make their way to the SMC studio stage.
The first play of the night, “Come and Go,” is a re-enactment of Beckett’s original piece which was first brought to the stage in the mid-1960s in Berlin. With the appearance on stage of three actresses sporting Victorian-style hats and dresses, the setting is clearly of a different time.
Two things that are most notable about his plays are that everything is up for individual interpretation by the audience, and there is sparse dialogue. When asked how the actors keep their energy up during the unspoken moments of the performance, actress Sivan Aviv said, “Perviz taught us how to maintain the energy flowing within, even if you aren’t saying anything. It’s like when you shake a can you know it’s about to explode if you open it, but it sits still."
Spencer Cramer, in the role of the “Bam”, lights his face up with a flashlight in the “What Where” scene for the upcoming theater performance of Samuel Beckett Quartet at the Santa Monica College Main Stage on Friday, October 28, 2016. (Rosangelica Vizcarra)
At its conclusion the audience is left in utter confusion by the last few words of "Come and Go." A character asks, “May we not speak of the old days? Of what came after? Shall we hold hands in the old way?” To which a second character responds, “I can feel the rings.” Without any previous context regarding how these words connect to any of the rest of the play, the audience is required to listen to the dialogue intently and study the actions of each character to interpret the meaning of these final words.
The performance of “What Where” had the audience breaking out in hearty, knowing laughter. This piece begins with Bam (Spencer Cramer), standing with a light flashed across his face in semi darkness. A voice could be heard around the stage which represented the inner monologue of the protagonist. The three remaining characters, Bom (Ty Dubo), Bim (Ray Strachen), and Bem (Garrow Geer), appear on stage interchangeably to carry out orders made by Bam.
Throughout the entire show, the audience is never given a backstory. When asked how the actors interpreted the seemingly nonsensical plays, Joey Dworski, a member of the cast, said, “I think Beckett looks at a play the same way a biologist would look at a cell. The cell is made up of a bunch of different things that aren’t alive and each thing by itself is just mechanical. I feel like what Beckett did, was put a whole bunch of people on stage, have them do a bunch of actions, and somehow from us doing all this random stuff with its own rhythm, it creates some sort of feeling that is so ambiguous that it’ll hit you no matter what,” Dworski said.
Spencer Cramer, in the role of the “Director”, handles a cigar while caressing a cat in the Catastrophe scene for the upcoming theater performance of Samuel Beckett Quartet at the Santa Monica College Main Stage on Friday, October 28, 2016. (Rosangelica Vizcarra)
The last play of the night was “Quad.” The scene is set with a sort of tribal drumming in the background, a woman shouting numbers in Hebrew, and four characters dressed in robes that were color-coordinated with squares painted on the floor. Every time a new character appeared on stage, an instrument would chime in and all the characters walked in-sync. This piece was broadcasted on television in 1981, and it is believed by many that the inspiration for it was the 1915 Armenian Genocide.
“Everybody created their own meaning for the walk and what’s behind the message," said Geer. "When I’m on the sides of the square, I imagine that I’m walking to the routine of every day, and then when I go towards the center, I am going to have a jump – like an act of faith. But then at the end I go back to my regular life."
Regardless of the actual backstory to “Quad,” the actors have their own ideas about what pacing around in an invisible square actually means. “We tried, while giving it a lot of energy, to not to make it so specific and give meaning as all of us would want to do as directors," said Sawoski. "With Beckett you want to not do that and purposefully make it ambiguous so that you can find your own meaning."
In interviews Beckett said that there is no actual meaning implicit in his plays and that they are meant to be completely absurd. So, audience members need no pretext to understand a Samuel Beckett play because there is nothing to try to understand. Every piece the hugely influential writer has created was meant for your own interpretation, and that is what makes his avant-garde works so timeless.
Sivan Aviv (left) Akua Parker (center) Sophia Avgeris (right) sit on a bench for their role in the “Come and Go” scene for the upcoming theater performance of Samuel Beckett Quartet at the Santa Monica College Main Stage on Friday, October 28, 2016. (Rosangelica Vizcarra)