“The production is a selection of Samuel Beckett’s prose and, if you’ll excuse me for being cheeky, it’s a collaboration between the players on stage and Beckett’s works.”
By Robert Israel
When I last encountered the husband and wife team of Conor Lovett and Judy Hegarty Lovett, co-artistic directors of Gare St. Lazare, the Irish troupe that returns to Boston October 5-9 for a new word-and-music production of selected texts by Samuel Beckett, it was on stage at the selfsame Arts Emerson’s Paramount Theatre for a spirited production of Beckett’s Waiting For Godot.
I had previously seen several productions of Godot, but this one caught my eye, and captured my ear. Beckett, like his literary mentor James Joyce, hailed from Ireland, but he lived most of his life as an ex-patriot, principally in France. He frequently – and vehemently – expressed disdain for his homeland. Yet upon hearing Gare St. Lazare’s treatment of his spare, taciturn speeches, I experienced, for the first time, the root sounds of Beckett’s language, which lay in the Irish brogue. And it moved me, the way that the sounds of another Nobel laureate, the late Harvard professor Seamus Heaney, moved me when I encountered him – deep in his cups – holding forth at a Cambridge saloon named Dedalus.
“Beckett was a Protestant, and he was frustrated by Ireland because he could see what the Roman Catholic Church had done to invoke control over the people,” Conor Lovett said. “Yet, the Irish language was in his life’s blood, and that was what you heard on stage when we were last in Boston.”
Lovett refers to Beckett’s use of language as “the Irish idiom,” and that’s close to the nub of it. So is the gaunt black comedy found throughout Beckett’s writing. This death’s head humor is peppered throughout Godot, and it will be evident in the new production, Here All Night.
“The production is a selection of Beckett’s prose and, if you’ll excuse me for being cheeky, it’s a collaboration between the players on stage and Beckett’s works,” Lovett explained.
Lovett’s pronunciation of the word “cheeky” — that soft lilt! — endows the word with a new meaning. I had previously associated it with the notion of “tawdry,” but now cheeky will conjure up a plush and silky baby’s bottom.
Gare St. Lazare’s production arrives in Boston on the heels of another production by a visiting Irish troupe, the famed Abbey Theatre, who perform Sean O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars at the American Repertory Theatre’s Loeb Drama Center in Cambridge from September 24 through October 9.
Lovett and his wife are already booked to see the production. Of the two Irish playwrights, Lovett made a salient observation:
“While O’Casey focused on dealing with the Irish people and their external political struggles, Beckett focused on dealing with the internal emotions we all feel while living on Planet Earth.”
In order to convey the inner life of Beckett’s work, the Lovetts are collaborating with a chamber group. Its delicate melodies – which will be intertwined with Beckett’s prose – will create what Lovett calls an evening of “exquisite entertainment.”
“We are also bringing local Boston singers into the production,” Lovett said, “professional singers that David Dower, from Arts Emerson, found for us. It’s all interwoven, and the production will be spellbinding, that much I can promise you.”
In closing our conversation, which seemed to have taken place at a whisper level – that’s how soft and undulating the lilt of Lovett’s voice is – the performer told me something his father had shared with him years ago.
“So my father said there was a guard that stopped all travelers and this guard asked them if they had a drink, you know, to test their sobriety and all,” the actor intoned. “And my father said he replied, ‘Oh yes, I’ve had a drink, because I couldn’t find my way back home unless I had one.”
Robert Israel writes about theater, travel, and the arts, and is a member of Independent Reviewers of New England (IRNE). He can be reached at email@example.com.
Ian Thal says
Having just seen Here All Night, I concur with Robert Israel that there is a certain joy in hearing Beckett’s language enunciated by an orator like Conor Lovett. What often sounds like an idiosyncratic literary tic when read in an American accent flows naturally in Lovett’s native Irish accent (the effect is similar when one hears Shakespeare performed with original pronunciation instead of the stereotypical RP accents).
Composer Paul Clark (with contributions from Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh) creates some lovely musical settings for lyrics Beckett wrote for his novels Watt, Malone Dies, and The Unnamable (sung by Melanie Pappenheim) as well as chamber music featuring pianist John-Paul Gandy, cellist Christopher Allan, and hardanger (a Norwegian fiddle that is like a violin with an additional 4 to 6 sympathetic strings) player Cleek Schrey — there is a lot to enjoy here.
The Lovetts’ own choice of texts — from the same novels — are entertaining. Those who know Beckett only from his plays and are accustomed to seeing him as an arch-modernists, absurdist, existentialist, or even post-modernist will be introduced to Beckett the stand-up comedian with amusing observations about the church as well as a talk about sex between elderly lovers that may have been transgressive when Beckett published them — as well as stereotypical observations about the Irish diet. Lovett’s delivery is genuinely funny and the material would certainly work in a comedy club today.
However, despite the laughs, and the pleasant music, there was also something missing — the mystery, terror, and strangeness that hover over both Beckett’s better-and-lesser-known plays. So while Lovett and Pappenheim are engaging stage performers, there was nothing dramatic occurring on the stage. I could often hear people dozing off all around me amidst the soothing words and melodies.