"This is the most difficult thing I've ever had to work on, and I've done one or two things," Boyette says in an understatement. A graduate acting teacher at the University of Wisconsin, Boyette has a glittering résumé, including her work with Tennessee Williams on a version of his Two Character Play in San Francisco.
"It takes you to the limit both physically and emotionally, and there's no margin of error," said Boyette, who performed Not I a handful of times in Wales. "You're either there or not, and you know whether you're connected immediately."
Though less than 20 minutes long, Not I is one of the most brutally demanding plays ever written for a performer. "Billie described the experience as falling backwards into hell," Boyette said. "For me, it feels like I'm being sucked into a vortex. It bruises me inside and out. I'm shackled during the play, like I'm in jail."
It's not merely the mental strain of memorizing a fragmented monologue designed to re-create the speed of thought. It's the intense physical discomfort of being strapped to an apparatus that Boyette likens to a medieval torture chamber.
The mouth is the only part of Boyette's body you'll see in this play; the rest is behind a screen. Her eyes are pressed shut and her ears covered, making it difficult to fully hear her own voice. In order to focus her energy into her mouth, Boyette's body is held motionless—hands clasped around a metal support, feet shackled. And she is suspended eight feet above the ground.
To cope with the physical demands, Zarrilli has worked closely with Boyette on a regimen that includes tai chi, yoga and an Indian form of martial arts.
The reason for the intense physicality? Because that, too, is what Beckett wanted: to take the mind out of the process and facilitate a total emotional connection between performer and viewer/listener.
"It's really, really beautiful work and an incredible challenge to get it right," Boyette said. "And as a human being, Beckett takes me to places I've never been before. They're not always places I want to go, but that's what makes me need to go there."
The Beckett Project at Grove Theater Center, 12852 Main St., Garden Grove, (714) 741-9555. Opens Fri. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m. Through April 15. Fri., $18.50; Sat., $22.50; student-rush tickets 30 minutes before each performance, $10.