Beckett/Albee

Samuel Beckett and Edward Albee
Century Center for the Performing Arts, New York
(2004)

There is a long history of programming short plays by Samuel Beckett and Edward Albee together.

This evening contains three Beckett shorts and a rather longer piece by Albee. It is graced by superb acting, which should come as no surprise since the star performers, Brian Murray and Marian Seldes, have each won Obies for lifetime achievement.

Beckett's work is always pared down but the first piece, Not I, may be the most extreme example. It features rather beautiful, disembodied red lips. These belong to a woman who is struggling to find herself. In gorgeously poetic language, she attempts to reconcile body, life and person.

A Piece of Monologue is what it says. Brian Murray, looking madly Scrooge-like in off-white night-shirt and holed socks, explores life from the premise that birth is no more than a reason to look forward to death.

Footfalls takes a mother and daughter who might have influenced Martin McDonagh's pair in The Beauty Queen of Leenane. The daughter blindly but ineffectually tries to escape from her infirm mother's influence.

These three works are not the cheeriest but do shed oblique light on the human condition. They work as well on the subconscious level as they do at the surface. In the same way, Edward Albee's extremely funny view of love and sex in maturity has hidden depths.

Counting the Ways strips bare the relationship between a husband and wife who have perhaps learned all that there is to know about each other. It starts with a series of very short but often extremely witty scenes introducing the couple and their Wars of the Roses.

In a strangely effective interlude, Albee asks his actors to address the audience directly in an unscripted improvisation that in Murray's case included references to Arnie and mad cow presidents.

Neither Beckett nor Albee are everyone's cup of tea but this is a very well-directed and entertaining production. Both Marian Seldes and Brian Murray are on top form and this is a refreshing change from so much sub-soap opera all too often seen in every medium.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher