Fragmented, Obtuse, Brilliant

Joel Beers theater notes

Photo by Cris Gross/SCRWE MEAN THIS IN THE BEST OF WAYS. Robert Leigh is a whore. The guy has directed or helped manage shows and theaters from the Laguna Playhouse and UC Irvine to the Long Beach Playhouse and Cal State Long Beach and recently joined the board of directors at the Vanguard Theatre Ensemble. This month, he's directing at the Chance Theater in Anaheim, and what he's directing ranks among the most ambitious productions at a small theater in recent memory: Samuel Beckett'sThat Which Remains. These four short plays, or dramaticules, are for smart people—not because of erudite language or heady ideas, but just because they're really fucking weird. All four show Beckett at his most fragmented, obtuse and brilliant. Act Without Words II is a 10-minute mime piece in which two performers, A and B, begin the play inside two large sacks. Prodded into action by a two-wheeled goad, A's movements are, Beckett says, "slow, awkward and absent," while B's are "brisk, rapid and precise." Play consists of three heads, each protruding from an urn. Provoked into speech by a spotlight, each relates his role in a bitter love triangle. The most accessible is Krapp's Last Tape. On the awful occasion of his birthday, a 69-year-old listens to a tape of his 39-year-old voice. The play features one of Beckett's greatest lines on aging, fatality and defiance: "Perhaps my best years are gone. When there was a chance of happiness. But I wouldn't want them back. Not with the fire in me now. No, I wouldn't want them back." The fourth play is Come and Go, in which three old women reminisce about their school days. It features 121 words and at least that many cryptic pauses. According to Leigh, the reason for staging the plays is to show how relevant Beckett's minimalist, form-challenging plays are to contemporary audiences—and even to those audiences who will come after us. "A thousand years from now, the works of Samuel Beckett may be the most lucid expression of the state of affairs in the 20th century and the most reasonable explanation for that which remains," he says. That Which Remains runs from Jan. 25 to Feb. 22.

ALSO ON THE MINIMALIST FRONT is Rounding Third, a play about two fathers of antipodal personality who try to manage a Little League team. The play, which opened last weekend at the Laguna Playhouse, fields only two characters. That poses a substantial challenge for any director, who has to work overtime to engage the audience's attention—particularly in a large space like the Moulton Theatre. Director Andrew Barnicle, pound for pound the tallest director in Orange County (and also one of its most talented), says he's capturing the audience in two ways: he's trusting his actors' abilities to modulate their voices in such a way that they're always hearing something different. And he's also leaning heavily on something that many directors, with their emphasis on intricate lighting or sound effects, often forget: audience imagination. By trusting his audience to fill in the visual gaps, Barnicle hopes to intimately involve them in the process.

IF IT DOESN'T WATCH OUT, the Rude Guerrilla Theater Co.is going to get a rep. Oops, too late. Once again, the theater is staging a play complete with a "no one under 17 admitted unless accompanied by a guardian" sticker. This one is Keith Curran's Walking the Dead, a play about very troubled characters (death-haunted gay man, bigoted society matron, embittered alcoholic, transgendered man, confused therapist, lesbian artist, unscrupulous filmmaker) drawn together by a horrific murder. It seems the production—surprise!—contains ample doses of nudity and violence, hence the qualifier. Walking the Deadopens this weekend at the Empire Theater in downtown Santa Ana.

Last weekend, South Coast Repertory opened Proof, David Auburn's examination of mental illness and mathematical brilliance and where the twain doth meet. This is a very good play—it won both the Pulitzer Prize and the Tony Award in 2001. Founding SCR artist Richard Doyle gets one of the three lead roles, as an enigmatic father who inspires and haunts his mentally challenged daughter. This is a rare chance to watch Doyle display his ample acting chops.

NEW SPACES, NEW COMPANY. The Vanguard Theatre Ensemble, which used to occupy the space now run by the Hunger Artists, is hungering for a room of its own. The company, dark since mid-2002, was set to lease space in downtown Fullerton next to Steamers Café, but the building was sold before they could close the deal. . . . The Insurgo Theater Movement, which promises that its ongoing production of The Taming of the Shrew will be its last in the space it has shared the past year with the Hunger Artists, is also looking for a new space. Head guy John Beane reports that the company is looking at sites in Fullerton and Orange. He expects Insurgo will move within six weeks. He'd better be right: the company's next play, the Restoration Comedy The Rivals, opens April 18. . . . The county's newest production entity opens its first play this weekend: the Another Round Theatre Co. Its first play, Edward Albee's groundbreaking two-person play, The Zoo Story, is being staged at the Ugly Mug Caffé in Orange, also home to Ask Kevin Productions, which is co-producing the effort.

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