Samuel Beckett wasn't the first guy you'd invite to a children's party: his plays show the wretchedness of living in a meaningless, irrational universe in which any search for order will only bring us into direct conflict with that universe.
The Grove Theater Center's second installment of Beckett's short works, under the expert direction of Kevin Cochran, really gets the writer's poignant dreariness. This is how theater—at least the kind Beckett cared about—is supposed to be: dark, barren stages; minimalist lighting that serves only to illuminate a character's voice or contemplation; and movement only when movement is appropriate.
That Time, starring the face and prerecorded voice of David Allen Jones, is a 16-minute meditation on the last moments of life. The dying man's fragments mean little to outsiders, of course, except to show the very act of dying with one's memories—some good, some bad, some just there. The revelation is less than glorious, and that's a drag, which is the point. Play is less surreal. Three corpse-like malcontents—a man, his mistress and his wife (Jones, Lisa Enochs and K.B. Dulude)—relate in emotional, personally biased excerpts the affair that led them all to misery. It's often comic, often tragic and ultimately once again shows the smallness of life and error, for, in the end, even regrets are silenced by death.
Finally, there's Krapp's Last Tape, by far the most depressing and fulfilling of the three. Alone in his home, Krapp (Jones again) listens to old audio reels of his personal diary from 30 years before. On the tape, we hear a 40-year-old Krapp playfully lamenting his twenties, dismissing his recent failed romances, and sounding like a typical know-it-all. Watching the older Krapp listen to his youthful, egotistical folly is heartbreaking; clearly, time ran out. He has nothing but his tapes, and what came before means nothing—he is an empty space, counting the moments until eternal sleep.
Beckett's plays are like mirrors; look into them, and you'll see the most beautiful, horrible thing you'll ever see—and discover why alcohol is so damn appealing.
The Beckett Project II at the Grove Theater Center, 12852 Main St., Garden Grove, (714) 741-9555. Thurs.-Sat., July 22-24, 8 p.m. $18.50-$25.50; then at the GTC Burbank, 1111-B W. Olive Ave., Burbank. Opens July 30. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m. Through Aug. 14. $12-$22.