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“Beckett Bites” Recap (SPOILER WARNING)

By Jenna Renaud and Ethan Shea

"Samuel Beckett"

This week, frequent blog contributors Jenna and Ethan attended the latest Villanova Theatre production, Beckett Bites. This performance consists of four brief plays by Samuel Beckett: Play, Footfalls, Rockaby and Come and Go.

Rather than writing a traditional review of the performance, Jenna and Ethan will both be responding to questions posed in the production’s education guide. As stated in this resource, the education guide is “intended to help guide and inspire conversation, reflection and further research connected to Villanova Theatre’s production of Beckett Bites,” so if you would like to view the guide in its entirety, check out this link.


Play

What do you think the three characters in Play are fighting with? What do you think they want by telling their story over and over again?

Jenna: Each character is ultimately fighting with their loneliness, isolation, and regret within the intertwining relationship. They are working to justify their actions by replaying the scenario of what happened repeatedly. The repetitiveness, however, seems to trap them in this cycle of replaying what happened over and over again. Despite all playing different roles in the affair, they are all reduced to the same emotions and the same fight against their isolation and regret.

Ethan: The three characters in Play seem to be arguing about a relationship scandal. This situation became clear simply because the characters addressed it directly, but the occasionally cluttered nature of their dialogue made the circumstances difficult to unravel at first. The repetition of their story plays into Beckett’s use of repetition which, given the context of absurdism, is meant to “drain away meaning” according to the aforementioned education guide. Therefore, it is reasonable to believe that the characters repeat their stories to cope with the pain caused by the relationship scandal. By repeating their stories, the characters hope to render the situation meaningless, taking away any power it has to hurt them.


Footfalls

In Footfalls, many people often believe that May is a ghost, literally or figuratively, or living in a ghost-like state. Discuss what you think she represents.

Jenna: I believe May represents someone living in a ghost-like state, trapped by the role she had to play as her mother’s caretaker. I believe that May exists; although, her mother has since passed and it a replaying of conversations that May struggles with as she paces back in forth. May puts forth a state of psychological imprisonment, the loss of agency, and, ultimately, the loss of identity.

Ethan: Regardless of whether May is literally a ghost or not, she is certainly “living in a ghost-like state.” Her solo presence on stage represents her mental isolation and physical separation from the rest of the world, an isolation similar to that of a ghost who is trapped in another world and only able to call upon others from afar. In this particular production, when May is revealed in reality behind the screen, she functions as a living shadow as she walks in sync with the cinematic representation of herself. Calling attention to these similarities between life and the screen make May appear to be both a figurative and literal ghost.


Rockaby

If the narrative comes from audio, what effect do you think that has on the actor/audience relationship?

Jenna: With the audio narrative, I think it helps the audience ultimately relate better to the actor in that many people often feel as though they have this internal narration going on inside their minds. In reflecting on the play, I think the narrative is the internal dialogue of the woman, who is working to cope with her mother’s passing and themes of loneliness and a desire for others to understand. Versus the woman speaking her piece, the narration allows the audience to see the grief more clearly on the woman’s face.

Ethan: The recorded audio in this play creates a bit of distance between the actor and audience. Given the current COVID-19 Pandemic and its detrimental impact upon live performances, I felt especially separated from the production due to the use of recorded audio and film. Although I am fascinated by the incorporation of these mediums onto the stage, after nearly two years of waiting for the return of live performances, being greeted by yet another screen was not the theatrical experience I had in mind.


Come and Go

Some have said that the three women can represent school girls, old maids, or witches. What do you think of when you see the three women, and why?

Jenna: When I see the three women I think of three women somewhere between school girls and old maids. They have moved on to the next stage of their lives, but there is still something drawing them back to that place. They represent the desire of returning to that childhood innocence and bliss, working to get there, but realizing that it will ultimately be slightly marred by the life that has occurred since then.

Ethan: Although the three womens’ outfits reminded me a bit of Alvin and the Chipmunks, out of the three representations mentioned in the question, I would say the women represented school girls the most. Because of the gossip that is stereotypically associated with children at school, the indiscernible whispering the women take part in is reminiscent of schoolchildren.  Regardless of the shock of gossip, the three women still come together at the end and join hands. This reading of the play asks audiences to learn from children. in doing so, perhaps they could also put aside their differences as children do.


Jenna Renaud and Ethan Shea are Graduate Assistants at Falvey Memorial Library.


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Dig Deeper: Samuel Beckett

“We are all born mad. Some remain so.” 

– Samuel Beckett 

Beckett Bites: A Villanova Theatre Production 

Villanova Theatre’s newest production, Beckett Bites, is here. Beckett Bites is a collection of four short plays by Samuel Beckett, directed by Edward Sobel, and running Nov. 414 in the Court Theatre at the brand-new John and Joan Mullen Center for the Performing Arts. There are four plays comprising Beckett Bites: “Play,” “Footfalls,” “Rockaby,” and “Come and Go.”

The play is described by Villanova Theatre as follows: “As we reemerge from a world defined by screen interactions to rejoin each other in shared space, we return with Beckett Bites, four short plays by the modern theatre’s greatest existential clown. Samuel Beckett’s plays exquisitely capture the powerful longing for connection, the inexorable nature of time, and the sheer absurdity of being human. In this deftly curated collection of four short works, audiences will imaginatively progress from isolation to the communal experience of live performance, alternately laughing at the ridiculous and glimpsing the sublime. “

Dig Deeper into Beckett Bites

Theatre of the Absurd 

The theatre of the absurd describes the post-WW2 designation of plays that focus on absurdist fiction. Late 1950s European playwrights such as Samuel Beckett, as well Harold Pinter, Eugène Ionesco, Jean Genet, and Arthur Adamov, amongst others, alluded to the question of “why are we all here?” The four main features of the Theatre of the Absurd are anti-character, anti-language, anti-drama, and anti-plot. In addition, read below for more characteristics and themes of the Theatre of the Absurd.  

CHARACTERISTICS OF THEATRE OF THE ABSURD 

  • Situations and characters’ emotional states may be represented through poetic metaphor (dreamlike, fantastical, or nightmarish images). 
  • The notion of realism is rejected: situations and characters are not “realistic” and characters are often placed in unreal situations. 
  • Set and costumes may not reflect an outward reality. 
  • Dialogue is often nonsensical, clichéd, or gibberish. 
  • Communication is fractured. 
  • There is usually an emphasis on “theatricality” as opposed to realism. 
  • Absurdist playwrights often use dark comedy for satiric effect. 
  • Characters exist in a bubble without the possibility of communication. 
  • Characters may be one-dimensional, with no clear motivation or purpose. 
  • Characters may be symbolic of universal situations. 
  • Behavior and situations may not follow the rules of logic. 
  • Structure may be circular, without a precise resolution. 
  • Action may be minimal. 
  • Setting of the play may be in one locale. 
  • Often characters perceive a threat from the “outside,” leading to a sense of powerlessness. 

THEMES OF THEATRE OF THE ABSURD 

  • Isolation of human existence in a world without God 
  • Lack of communication between individuals 
  • Dehumanization in a commercial world 
  • Social disparity 
  • Life without purpose or examination 
  • Class difference/the haves and have nots 
  • Loneliness 
  • Fear of the disenfranchised 

(Beckett Bites Education Guide, 2021) 

Dig Deeper into the Theatre of the Absurd 

Still want to learn more about the Theatre of the Absurd? Check out the following Falvey offerings: 

About Samuel Beckett 

Samuel Barclay Beckett was an Irish novelist, playwright, short story writer, theatre director, poet, and literary translator. Beckett wrote in both English and French, being born in Ireland, but spending the majority of his adult life in France. He is a playwright known outside of the field of theatre, primarily for his most famous work Waiting for Godot. As a member of the Theatre of the Absurd, Beckett often explored themes such as the passage of time and utilized repetition and silence to emphasize key ideas. 

Dig Deeper into Samuel Beckett 

Still want to learn more about Samuel Beckett or read some of his works? Check out the following Falvey offerings: 


jenna newman headshotJenna Renaud is a graduate student in the Communication Department and graduate assistant in Falvey Memorial Library.


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Last Modified: November 4, 2021