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Writing for CurtainUp NYC Weather
|A CurtainUp Review
By Les Gutman
You know that penny farthing hell you call your mind
.... That's where you think this is coming from, don't you?
--- Samuel BeckettThe new theater company producing this show has a name -- Negative Antelope -- that conjures up enough images to entertain me for the 40 minute duration of its presentation, regardless of what happens on-stage.
Eh Joe is the only work Beckett wrote specifically for television, but it is about as similar to typical television fare (even British television -- it was done originally for BBC) as his plays are to typical theater. It's been performed theatrically before, but always as the carefully delineated television piece Beckett envisioned.
Beckett gives us one character to look at (Joe), but another, the woman (now dead) who was his "significant other," to listen to. (She does not appear on screen.) The effect, when properly executed, is an increasingly tormenting mindscape that is as eerily discomfiting to its audience as it is to Joe. Virtually every one of Joe's motions is scripted as he listens to this nightmarish recitation of his life (reminiscent of Marianne Faithfull's "Why'd Ya Do It!"), the latter performed in a precise cadence and tone (slow, colorless and with the beat laid out by the playwright as if he were composing a song).
Cradeaux Alexander, who both directs and "stars" in this production, has essentially turned the play on its head. There is no Joe on-stage. (The audience, it seems, is supposed to play this part.) The Woman's dialogue is rendered by a quartet of actors, Alexander and three women, who are very much in evidence. Their delivery of the dialogue, the several set and costume changes (Alexander first appears in a black wifebeater over a long red tulle skirt; at one point in nothing at all) and the fussy staging make it obvious Alexander is trying a completely different approach. (A second pass at the dialogue -- it only takes around 20 minutes to get through it once -- is rendered at what could be called High Tea.)
I have no problem with trying to deconstruct Beckett once or twice (although it occurs to me it's an oxymoron), but I have no idea what Alexander has in mind here. This is not to suggest that the performances are not good -- they are in large measure quite good and in their own way meticulously calibrated -- but I am reminded of the time my brother, then in college, entered a fox trot competition, only to be quickly eliminated by the judge. "You're dancing very nicely," he was told, "but you're not doing the fox trot."
Clueless, I repair to the only source of hints I have at my disposal, the press release, where I learn "Cradeaux hopes to accomplish with this staging the same haunting effect that was originally palpable only with the zooming and fading of the camera." Suffice it to say he does not.