Dallas — Three fat funeral urns about five feet tall, their heads screwed on top, appear in thrust formation, facing away from the audience, forming dark silhouettes against a scrim of bright blue sky afloat with plump cumulus clouds. Suddenly the figures turn in unison and launch into a cacophonic chorus of rapid-fire, unintelligible words.
The startling opening image instantly barrels us into the purgatorial world of Play, Samuel Beckett’s 1963 one-act contrapuntal rondo on infidelity, directed by Susan Sargeant for WingSpan Theatre Company at the 18th annual Festival of Independent Theatres. Sargeant also directed Wingspan’s critically acclaimed 2013 production of Beckett’s 1961 Happy Days in which the major character ends up buried in sand to her neck. Sargeant gets Beckett.
Her tight orchestration of Play’s jagged rhythms, weaving a string of stock accusations with lines of tragic resignation, resonates and builds during the show’s breathless 22 minutes to a profound sense of existential despair. Exhale.
Sound dreary? It’s not. Loaded with the hard humor of irony and expertly performed by a trio of exacting actors, this superb rendering of a unique piece by one of theater’s most radically experimental dramatists is a bright, bitter and refreshing drink—the perfect tonic for a summer festival.
Play features the usual suspects of an adulterous affair. Arranged in a classic triangle with Man (John Pszyk) in the middle and upstage, flanked by his wife, Woman 1 (Lulu Ward) on his right and his mistress, Woman 2 (Barrett Nash) on his left. As the light hits the faces of the talking urns, they tell bits and pieces of their version of the affair. Everyone speaks in tempo allegro, all apparently unaware of the proximity of each other in this not quite hellish place. The urns reside in a kind of Dante-esque purgatory where the damned are punished by being mired next to their partners in sin.
Each character speaks only in turn and only together when they fall into a babbling jabber. Hilariously, however, when one character reports what the other once said in this verbal assault, the person quoted opens his mouth wide and wordlessly mime’s his own words. Must they eat them, too?
Ward, her hair pulled up in a queenly knot, rolls her large, dark eyes and snarls in fury as she spews her accusations about the stench of her husband’s mistress: “I said to him, ‘Give up that whore.’”
Nash, her exquisite cheekbones and broad forehead blazing in white tones, gives sneering voice to the mistress, talking of doing her nails and thinking her lover lingers with his tiresome wife “just for her money.”
Pszyk’s Man, his face a scruffy bluish-white, is the hapless husband who seems to fall back and forth between warring forces, terrified of the ferocity of the females, and unable to do anything on his own. His voice is fast and frantic as he recounts his clichéd attempt to reconcile with his wife: “I took her in my arms and said, I could not go on living without her.” He hiccups between promises in a funny, pitiful way. Pszyk’s anguish slows his deep voice ever so slightly, particularly as the Man realizes he is not at last “in the dark,” but remains in this bodiless urn, existing always in half-light and sentence fragments. The women are surer, faster speakers of their tales throughout.
Their three-part choral hymn to the miseries of adultery opens, swells and closes with darkness. Then it begins again, at least in parts. Beckett and this amazing cast remind us of the awful curse of an unresolved argument, repeated ad infinitum in meaningless gibberish, even unto the end.
Kudos also to costume and makeup artist Barbara C. Cox for the weird and textured urn costumes, and to sound designer Lowell Sargeant for leading un into and out of Beckett’s chilly universe.
» See more info about the 2016 Festival of Independent Theatres in our special section here, where you can also learn how to download our FIT app. In that app, you'll see a section for the playbills for each company, which includes cast, creative and director's notes.
» See more info about the 2016 Festival of Independent Theatres here.
» Read our interview with Susan Sargeant here
Play is performed in the following blocks:
- 8pm Thursday, July 14
- 2pm Sunday, July 17
- 8pm Saturday, July 23
- 5pm Sunday, July 30