The waiting is over

Annual Beckett Festival brings six absurdist productions to life

Test Market’s Waiting for Godot.
Jacob Coakley

Test Market theater company is once again beating back the bourgeois and complacent with its sixth annual Beckett Festival, continuing through November 15 at the old Mission Industries building just north of the Arts Factory. Leave your ideas of ushers, colored lights and comforting finales at the door, people—this is Art. It demands engagement from the audience, and a willingness to meet the shows on their terms, not yours. The risks for challenging an audience are high; are the rewards worth it?


The Beckett Festival
Waiting for Godot
Three stars
Dumb Waiter
Three stars
Three stars
One star
Through November 15
Mission Industries, 1001 S. 1st St.
Individual show tickets $15-$75.
The Beckett Festival
From the Calendar
Tony Kushner's Slavs! at The Beckett Festival
Waiting for Godot at The Beckett Festival
Guardians by Peter Morris
Huis Clos by Sarte
The Dumb Waiter by Harold Pinter
Escurial by Michel de Ghelderode
From the Archives
Go to hell (12/1/05)
Yo, Godot! We’re Still Waiting … (12/2/04)
Test Market Theater will not beg for your attention (8/5/04)
Beyond the Weekly
The Beckett Festival
Test Market theater company

Among this year’s offerings: the only play actually written by Samuel Beckett in the fest, Waiting for Godot. Directed by Test Market founder Ernest Hemmings (who also plays Vladimir), this production is mounted in the round and flooded with un-gelled, stark white light as Vladimir and Estragon (played by T.J. Larsen) pass the time with clown-like diversions. Godot is full of small bits and recurring jokes, and Hemmings and Larsen have mined it to good effect (this is the first time I’ve ever laughed at the triumphant showing of a festering wound), but the show still stalls for me under the weight of its own importance. The “Who’s on First” style of Estragon’s repeated queries about why the pair can’t leave is dead-on, and becomes more poignant as the play continues, but I wish the rest of the play had the same dynamic—start from funny and let it build into importance.

The Dumb Waiter by Harold Pinter, produced at the fest by Found Door and directed by Ela Rose, owes an immediate debt to Godot, but since this is Pinter there’s a lot more menace to the show: Gus (Drew Yonemori) and Ben (Erik Amblad) aren’t just waiting for someone, they’re waiting to kill someone. The absurdism in this show takes longer to show up, and when it does it’s both hysterical and deeply unnerving. Amblad’s work as Ben seems one-dimensional at first, full of bluster and posturing, and as the absurdity in the play mounts he becomes comical in his attempts to maintain a level of professionalism. But, as the denouement approaches, Amblad’s acting reveals different layers of his character to the audience without overtly signaling what he’s doing. It’s a subtle shift, and well done. Yonemori’s Gus isn’t required to have the same slippery depths as Ben, but the exposed nerves are played well.

Las Vegas Little Theatre’s production of Peter Morris’ Guardians consists of two intertwined monologues surrounding the Abu Ghraib military prison torture scandal. An American Girl (a thinly veiled Lynndie England, played by Breon Jenay) tells her story of why she did what she did, and English Boy (an English journalist, played by Tony Blosser) explains how he recreated some torture for his own personal gain. The writing is the star, with vivid imagery, detailed metaphors and recurring symbolic motifs, but the staging falls into the trap of most monologues, with little to no movement. The actors speak the words with intent, but the performances lack the rhythm, internalization of narrative and emotional commitment to breathe life into these biting commentaries.

The final show of opening weekend, Escurial, by Michel de Ghelderode, is a 45-minute examination of the relationship between a misogynistic king (Brandon McClenahan) and his jester Folio (Sam Cranes). It is absurdism taken to its fullest, with all the pretension and ersatz profundity that entails: yelling equals acting, jumping around and throwing yourself on the floor equals characterization, and the bad guy wins. If the words are important, they need to be intelligible. If they aren’t, then every physical movement must be as precise and communicative as dance or pantomime. When neither is done, you have a mess.

The fest features two additional shows that had not opened at press time. Tony Kushner’s Slavs!, another Test Market production, opens October 24 at 8 p.m., while Atlas Theatre Ensemble’s No Exit takes its bow October 25 at 2 p.m.


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