A mash-up of Irish absurdist Samuel Beckett's plays and classical music inspired by his works is pleasantly unpleasant.
One of the first lessons we all learned as a wee toddler was “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Well, the same must go for plays with immediately off-putting titles, because the current co-production between Canadian Stage and Queen of Puddings Music Theatre, Beckett: Feck It!, is much more enjoyable than its name would suggest.
That’s not to say you can mistake “enjoyable” for pure, unalloyed joy. The famed Irish playwright’s absurdist creations, like Waiting for Godot, Endgame, and Happy Days, are the darkest of comedies that pit their characters in a sort of hopeless, bleak limbo in which they perform the same tasks over and over again, apparently for eternity.
What Beckett is less known for is a love of classical music. With director Jennifer Tarver focusing on the stage, and music directors Dáirine Ní Mheadhra and John Hess taking care of our ears, Beckett: Feck It! combines four of Beckett’s shorter plays with Irish compositions performed by trumpeter Michael Fedyshyn and soprano Shannon Mercer. The four plays in question are deftly handled by two seasoned performers, Laura Condlln and Tom Rooney, and two emerging theatre school grads, Sofia Tomic and Michael Grzejszczak.
As the show progresses, Beckett’s plays become increasingly mysterious and dire—beginning with Acting Without Words II, in which two men (Rooney and Grzejszczak) are prodded awake one after the other in an endless routine of waking up, getting dressed, taking one step, and going back to sleep. Next is Come and Go (Condlln, Tomic, and Mercer), which showcases Beckett’s version of feminine gossip. In Play, a spotlight shows a man, his wife, and his mistress recounting their points of view of an affair, with only their heads visible to the audience. Finally, Ohio Impromptu seats two men similar in appearance, but vastly distant in age, at a table while the younger of the two (Grzejszczak) reads from a book to the older man (Rooney), who simply responds in knocks.
Mercer and Fedyshyn’s songs echo the repetition and melancholy that is Beckett’s signature, with Mercer and the trumpet interacting like the characters in the short scenes. They start out lighthearted and farcical, much like Acting Without Words II itself. But by the time Ohio Impromptu begins, Mercer, in a bold red dress, unleashes a mournful tune interjected with jarring shouts toward the audience.
Play delivers the most memorable performances from Rooney and Condlln as the crumbling couple, though Tomic makes a substantial effort in keeping up with the spitfire pace of her monologue. And while Mercer performs her songs with impressive bursts of emotion, the style doesn’t always match Beckett’s penchant for monotony.
If you’ve never seen any of Beckett’s plays, hurry and get to Beckett: Feck It! before it closes on Saturday. Unlike the show’s characters, it won’t be around for eternity.