A Mind-Bending Evening of Beckett – Irish Repertory Theater

A Mind-Bending Evening of Beckett was presented by the Irish Repertory Theater in the fall of 2013, directed by Bob Flanagan, and designed by N. Joseph DeTullio (set), Andrea Lauer (costumes), Michael Gottlieb (lights), Ryan Rumery (music), and Den Design Studio (puppet).  The evening consisted of three Beckett plays: Act Without Words, Play, and Breath. This application will focus on Act Without Words.

Bob Flanagan, an extraordinary artisan and puppeteer, conceived a completely unique landscape for Act Without Words: a small proscenium stage and a wooden puppet.  The puppeteers, though fully covered in black, were a visual presence throughout.

This dichotomy of humanity: a wooden representation of a person, manipulated by masked real humans, serves as a base for a deeper understanding of the desperation present in Beckett’s play. As the piece begins, Ryan Rumery’s score fills the room, and we are in a desert, with a wooden man, all alone.  The haunting score guides the changes in the emotional landscape of the piece, while the puppet’s smallest gesture is magnified into epic proportions through the scale of the world.  In the complete absence of facial expression, the smallest tilt of the head, or lift of a finger, reverberates strongly, yet delicately.

In place of the 21st century’s inhumanizing technology, the production amplifies the inherent human quotient in its resources: a hand-made puppet, manipulated by actors, on a very tactile set, with delicate shifts of lighting and emotional musical tones.

This complete ecosystem of humanity speaks to the vision and theme of the 2015 PQ. The play presents itself on a desert island, where the puppet strives to reach water repeatedly only to have it disappear.  He seeks companionship in vein.  Eventually even the trees around him vanish. He is left alone, the barest of human conditions, with only his desert island, warm light, and haunting score to accompany him.  But of course there is also a trio of puppeteers assisting him, for it requires four hands to manipulate him, and two more hands to taunt him with water, scissors, rope, and trees.  The human condition is exposed in this production in a new way. Even in solitude, we are supported by our tribe.