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THE ARTSEMERSON BLOG

What Did You Think of The Beckett Trilogy

Thank you for joining us for Lisa Dwan’s production of The Beckett Trilogy: Not I/Rockaby/Footfalls!

The writings of Samuel Beckett have been the subject of countless scholarly analyses and cultural critiques. However, Ms. Dwan feels strongly that Beckett’s plays are written to be digested viscerally in the body, not the mind.

 

Now that you have just experienced three Beckett pieces, what do you think? Where did they speak to you?

 

Leave your thoughts in the comments!

 

22 Comments

  1. I love Beckett and I have never been so disappointed in my life not to hear a word of these three pieces. Lighting was interested but lack of audibility was a distraction and frustration.

    Reply
    • Hi Gail – I apologize the sound was an issue. This is a show with so many intricate moving pieces and last night was our first night with an audience, which has an effect on sound. We are taking what we learned last night and making whatever adjustments we can to ensure that we are supporting the high level of technique and skill coming from the stage.

      Thank you for reaching out and thank you for coming!

      Reply
    • Rich MurphyMarch 19, 2016 at 2:42 pm

      I agree with Gail. This particular theater Let Dwan down. Without adequate audio, a smaller venue is needed. I know these plays, so I am at an advantage, but my partner felt lost when she was prepared to experience the characters’ marginalization.

      Reply
    • michael pringleMarch 19, 2016 at 2:52 pm

      For all those, like myself, who were bitterly disappointed, by the inaudibility of Lisa Dwan’s, admittedly masterful, performance of “Not I”, I urge you to watch the You Tube video of the late Billie Whitelaw’s 1973 performance at the Royal Court Theatre in London. Whitelaw was not only Lisa Dwan’s mentor, but was, for many years, Beckett’s muse, a perfect interpreter of not only his text, but also the cadence and pauses. Her delivery of “Not I” is slower than Dwan’s and the diction perfectly clear.

      Lisa Dwan has been hailed as a worthy successor to Billie Whitelaw, and her acting ability in all three parts of the Trilogy, attest to that. However, while Beckett’s texts may be spare and bleak, they do need to be heard, and unfortunately we were denied that pleasure. I should add that I was in row J of the orchestra, where audibility should not be a problem.

      Reply
  2. Jay MobleyMarch 17, 2016 at 9:22 am

    I wasn’t going to write anything here, but because this feedback feature is being seriously underused, and the only opinion on here is negative, I thought I’d throw in my two cents —

    This was the first Beckett I’ve seen live. I’ve long loved Beckett (maybe mostly as an idea) in print and on film, but this was another thing altogether. For me, this was the perfect realization of the work of a perfectionist theater artist (Beckett, I mean. Though I’m sure Dwan is a perfectionist, too.) It hit me viscerally and emotionally and on some higher level.

    To the point about audibility, I never felt like audibility was a problem at all. Granted I was sitting in the orchestra section pretty much center, so probably in the most advantageous spot for sound design and vocal clarity, but still, that never crossed my mind, and actually I praised the sound design to a friend afterward — I especially loved the portion of Footfalls where the actor mouthed the words from the overdub.

    So sure, I didn’t catch every word of “Not I” — but not because of clarity of diction or projection or sound design…just because of the writing. Which, to me, is part of the point. I got an overall emotional sense, and that rang true.

    Excellent production! So exciting.

    Reply
  3. Mary-Ann GreanierMarch 17, 2016 at 9:29 am

    I know these three pieces intimately, and love them. Sadly, I walked away from the theater last night shaking my head in confusion and disappointment.

    What is Beckett without his words? Little more than lighting tricks and interesting stage pictures. Last night, even though I know the scripts by heart, I could barely make out a few dozen words.

    I am certain Ms Dwan’s performance is stellar, as I have read numerous five-star reviews from around the world. How sad that, due to an extraordinarily bad sound design, this was not one of them.

    Reply
    • Hi Mary-Ann,

      Thank you for your feedback. Moving into tonight’s performance we are making necessary adjustments to make sure that the sound is on the level of the performance and stagecraft.

      Reply
      • Mary-Ann GreanierMarch 17, 2016 at 4:26 pm

        Thanks, Kevin. I’m actually relieved. As a theater professional, I know how hard these things can be to get right. I’m going to try to snag another ticket and see it again.

        I’ve been an Arts Emerson subscriber since the beginning, and deeply believe in its mission. Can’t wait to see what’s next.

        Best,
        Mary-Ann

        Reply
        • As I wrote in my own comment, I think you’re generous – this was NOT a high school or community theater production. This was a professional production, the ticket price was commensurate, and the production quality should have been as well. There’s no excuse for getting so wrong something as basic and essential as audibility.

          Reply
  4. Lynette D'AmicoMarch 17, 2016 at 10:49 am

    A truly immersive theatre experience—sitting in the impenetrable dark, disoriented, and held by Lisa Dwan’s mesmerizing performance—I’ve never experienced anything like it. The dark was at times terrifying and soothing; Dwan opened the door to the end of the world, the end of language, the end of meaning—the beginning of brilliance. i’m going back tonight.

    Reply
  5. Jeff LarsonMarch 17, 2016 at 10:55 am

    Unfortunately, I have to echo what others have said about the sound last night. I sat in Row N and could only hear about ten per cent of the words. I was very impressed by the staging, the lighting and the non-verbal aspects of Ms. Dawn’s performance but I could not hear Beckett’s words! I am also somewhat relieved to learn that others had the same problem because I was wondering if I need to have a hearing exam.

    Reply
    • Richard ColtonMarch 21, 2016 at 3:59 pm

      An astounding experience! And yes, even at last performance Sunday, I could not hear words (well yes, the big ones that were repeated and highlighted made it through. This was a disappointment).

      I also have to say if Emerson is going to put on a one hour show that darkness and silence are so key, how could they have late seating. It absolutely spoiled the effect of Not I and then for half of Footfalls the group let in were settling and absolutely distracting. I lost the feeling of void that was intended between Not I and Footfalls, and the footfalls into nothingness. I understood the brilliant intentions of the theater artists and was surprised after all the intro about infrared and all that this would be permitted to happen.

      That said, this Sunday afternoon was one of the great Beckett experiences of my Beckett theater going (includes Jack MacGowran in the works of Beckett at The Public Theater)! It was the life, all modulations, coming through the voice and everything else distilled to the, powerfully, minimum that made for greatness. Pierced the soul. And always a glimmer of light to hold onto. Beckett!

      Richard

      Reply
  6. Chris OwensMarch 17, 2016 at 7:55 pm

    I came away unsure whether the unintelligbility of Ms. Dwan’s monologue was a technical fault with the sound, or whether it was a deliberate aspect of the production. I have normal hearing, generally do quite well with unfamiliar accents or weak radio signals, and was seated about halfway back in the center of the orchestra. I would say I understood approximately 5 percent of the words spoken during Not I, 40 to 50% during Footfalls, and 75% or so during Rockaby. Not I was a particularly odd experience: periodically people in the first few rows of the audience would laugh, suggesting that they had heard and understood the words.

    The overall experience of being in a blacked-out auditorium full of people was fascinating, and I would recommend it.

    Reply
  7. For me the performance last night-March 17th-was mesmerizing. This was the first time I heard ‘Not I’ live and yes I didn’t catch every word in my ear but I did catch most in my gut. Being in total darkness with 100s of other theater explorers was an experience like no other, though I was surprised at how many people couldn’t handle it and needed assistance to leave the theater. Footfalls and Rockaby were equally engaging to me. But ‘Not I’ is a masterpiece of writing and I feel Lisa Dwan gave us everything she’s got – heart, body and soul. Wish I had tix to hear this performance again in the Paramount Theater-perfect venue.

    Reply
  8. Diane PansenMarch 18, 2016 at 10:24 am

    The sound was loud but incomprehensible from the balcony (first open row). The speed of the performance of NOT I, while astonishing, lead to the language being a blur, with only about 8 words clearly heard (after the performance others in my row and behind discussed having had the same experience– so not a hearing issues on my part).

    The first part of Footfalls was clear– and the staging was very powerful… but then mid-way thru it turned to garble.

    Rockaby was the clearest– especially since lines repeated so we had the opportunity to piece together what she was saying.

    I could tell from the quality of the applause from the orchestra that the folks down there had a marvelous experience.

    The staging, the darkness, the rhythms of the language renewed my commitment to see more Beckett. But I left wishing It had been staged in a theater where one could hear the language– (this is ancient history: like the old charles theater or theater company of boston.)

    Reply
  9. David WooddellMarch 19, 2016 at 9:32 am

    Sound. Intelligibility. I did not experience Beckett. Disappointed. The blinking lights from the night vision goggles a distraction in complete darkness.
    Being experimented upon regarding sound is a lame excuse.

    Reply
  10. My wife and I are great fans of theater and Beckett. But, because of its unintelligibility, last night was one of the most exasperating, disappointing theater experiences we’ve ever had.

    Ms. Greanier wrote above that: “As a theater professional, I know how hard these things can be to get right.”
    I think she’s unduly generous – this was NOT a high school or community theater production. You are professionals, your ticket price is commensurate, and your production quality should be as well. There’s no excuse for getting so wrong something as basic and essential as audibility.

    I really feel, on these grounds, that we should get some kind of credit towards the next work we see.

    The total darkness also had problems, in that the smallest bits of light became extremely distracting: Maybe it was the ushers, but there were frequent green glows emitted from just to the left and right of the stage – I found myself using my hands as blinders to remove these distractions. Again, as a frequent theater-goer, I suspect that better lighting design could have created the *sense* of complete darkness without literal complete darkness and its attendant possibilities for distraction. Ultimately, it felt gimmicky.

    Reply
  11. This was, without any question, the finest production of any of Beckett’s work I have seen. Absolutely extraordinary.

    Reply
  12. David WooddellMarch 19, 2016 at 4:54 pm

    I would add that a pause between taking down the lights and starting the performance would allow customers to decide if they are comfortable and need an usher without having to interrupt the beginning of the performance.

    Reply
  13. I saw the show Friday. Loved it, and the sound was fine. I was stunned to hear that the sound was weak Thursday because levels had been set with an empty theater. This is Theatrical Sound Design 101: The audience absorbs a LOT of sound. Your people need to learn how to compensate for an audience and adjust for the type of sound (speech, orchestra, etc.). Here is a good overview, with links, to get you started: http://scitation.aip.org/content/asa/journal/jasa/110/5/10.1121/1.1409970

    Reply
  14. I saw the show on Sunday and sat in Orchestra row N and was very disappointed with the sound quality. Yes, most of the time, the words were inaudible and a blur.

    I would have expected that the sound to be tested before each performance, especially after getting a world-renowned actor who had closely adhered to Beckett’s stage directions.

    Also, I’m not sure whether for “Not I” if there was a way to project the mouth onto a screen to increase the size of the image. Because from where we sat, in Orchestra Row N, all that my friend and I saw was a dim oval of light that moved above the stage.

    Reply
  15. Merle WolofskyMarch 23, 2016 at 8:01 pm

    I could not hear what was being said at the Sunday performance.

    Reply

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