Monday, February 20, 2012


19 FEB 2012
R: 4/5

Pictured: Tom Rooney, Michal Grzejszczak

It’s not quite as explosive a notion as the blending of nitro and glycerin, perhaps, but when the artists who make up the Queen Of Puddings Music Theatre Company decided to try combining the works of one of Ireland’s best known modern playwrights with music his work has inspired and the poetry of his homeland, it was clearly an idea with a theatrical charge.

And while it might be overstating things a tad to suggest that BECKETT: FECK IT! — the child of that notion — hit the stage of the Berkeley Street Theatre Friday in a presentation of Canadian Stage with a sonic boom, it made enough of a bang nonetheless that fans of both less-than-traditional Irish music and the playwright, Samuel Beckett, should stand at attention and salute.

The plays in question are lesser known, and certainly far shorter works from the man who gave the world such classics as Waiting For Godot, Happy Days and Endgame. But while his Act Without Words II, Come And Go, Play and Ohio Impromptu might not have achieved the notoriety and reach of their more fully-fleshed stage brethren, they still prove themselves worthy of attention — particularly when blended as they are with the tunes of composers Gerald Barry, Andrew Hamilton, and Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh in a way that simply serves to stitch them into a dramatic crazy quilt certain to provide dramatic comfort on even the coldest February night.

To handle the dramatic end of things, director Jennifer Tarver has recruited a quartet of actors — Tom Rooney, Laura Condlin, Sofia Tomic and Michal Grzejszczak — fleshing out their number as the occasion demands with the secondment of vocalist Shannon Mercer who, when not otherwise engaged, tackles the often haunting tunes that serve to bind the evening into a whole, accompanied, as often as not, by trumpeter Michael Fedyshyn, all under the musical direction of Dáirine Ní Mheadhra and John Hess.

As for the plays, they are frankly little more than mere dramatic sketches, but sketches that, as often as not, capture as much humanity and truth in their brief moments upon the stage as the minimalist lines of the best in Picasso’s sketchbooks. Keenly observed, they are simultaneously heart-breaking and amusing, pointing up the foibles of life and mankind, even while they embrace and celebrate those elements.

Working on a deceptively simple set created by Teresa Przybylski, beautifully illuminated by Kimberly Purtell, they are elegantly, but simply, staged in such a way as to put Beckett’s work in the spotlight. And while there are echoes here of Beckett’s other works — the two men in Act Without Words II seem trapped in a world that would be familiar to Godot’s Vladimir and Estragon, while the three characters in Play have much in common with Happy Days’ Winnie — they are complete in themselves.

The music too seems eerily familiar on occasion, with Mercer handling the sometimes unorthodox demands of some of the work with a commendable deftness. In fact, it is the music that impresses here, for while Mheadhra and Hess conspire to accommodate the theatrical demands of the evening without compromising on the things music, the cast, under Tarver’s direction, fails to meet the often musical demands of Beckett’s text, which regularly requires its speakers to have the same kind of breathing, diction and precision that a song demands of its singer.

Rooney makes it all look easy and, at least in Play, Condlin sings from the same songbook — but in their speaking parts, Grzejszczak and Tomic are often garbled or simply inaudible. And especially when it comes to Beckett, if you’re going to say Feck It!, then it demands to be said clearly. 

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