By Jenna Renaud and Ethan Shea
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.
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.
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.
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.