Friday, March 28, 2008

Actually, You DO Mess With Beckett

By Russ Bickerstaff
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It’s always interesting what you run into on the bus. People unfamiliar with the county bus system and particularly those in favor of cutting funding to it are missing out on a really interesting social venue. You get on the bus and pay your two dollars and you’re there for a brief period of time. Yes, you can read, listen to an MP3 player and generally tune-out everyone as you go from origin to destination without any other interaction, but if you’re interested in opening-up to the bus socially, you can end up in some really weird conversations with random strangers, acquaintances and such. They’re people drawn from some arcane wandering table of causal circumstance. Bizarrely improbable interactions happen and things get generally askew. If you’re uncomfortable, there is solace in the fact that the conversation doesn’t have to last too long and you’ve always got an excuse to pull out of it when you reach your destination (or, if necessary, several blocks before your destination.)

Last night I was on my way to the opening of the In Tandem show. A couple of blocks into the ride, someone I knew from way back got on. He saw me and we had a conversation. He’s the type of guy who doesn’t really need you there for the whole conversation. A really good conversation with this guy is like listening to him talk. You can learn a lot if you only speak when actually prompted to. I cleared my head and opened my ears as he began the conversation . . . before long he was mentioning unfavorable things about the intellect and general disposition of someone I think of as a colleague . . . then he launched into talk about local theatre. I’m pretty certain I must’ve said something to him because he mentioned something about how most of the theatre in Milwaukee isn’t worth his time, but he really loves Beckett and probably isn’t going to see the Rep’s Endgame because he’d seen Corkins in the previous production of the play and his Hamm is apparently way too hammy and I seem to remember saying something at that point. And I can’t stress enough that this is a guy who holds an intellect I respect—who holds opinions that are carefully constructed. Here, however, I didn’t happen to agree with a single one of them. It might’ve been more or less at this point that Insurgent Theatre co-founder Rex Winsome boarded with a talented and attractive DIY actress whose name I can never seem to remember and I sort of wanted to talk to them but I found myself saying something like this to the gentleman who was holding the conversation I was in:

“The great thing about Beckett, though, is that his work is ambiguous enough that it can be performed in a million different ways that can all be really good.” Or something like that.

I don’t recall exactly what his response was, but it involved the words, “you don’t mess with Beckett.” And I’m pretty certain that he went on to talk in a way that illustrated what I can only describe as the position of a Beckett purist. I didn’t even know such a thing existed. If I recall correctly, (and honesty, I may have misheard him) he’d mentioned a distaste for seeing Waiting For Godot performed with bowler hats. And he said, “you don’t mess with Beckett.” And I sat there just seats from a guy who had been known to play one of Beckett’s characters on a street corner and I felt like I was having one of those moments that I could probably blog about if I could ever manage to pummel some insight out of it. And he said, “you don’t mess with Beckett.”

Winsome and the actress got off by the Marcus Center. They were going to a Kafka puppet show and I was going to see two people perform a play at least partially about Catholicism that was performed in the same building as a church on West Wisconsin. And no—it wasn’t perfect, but it was worth seeing. And yes, there’s a lot of bad stuff being performed in local theatre, but the problem with being a snob about all of it (and I don’t think anyone really is) is that you can never predict which company is going to produce a truly mind-blowing performance. Genius is fickle enough that it isn’t tied to money. Sometimes big money puts together a brilliant play. Sometimes you can only see it on the smallest stage for the briefest moment. And I’m sorry, but actually you DO mess with Beckett.

You mess with Beckett because he’s dead.

You mess with Beckett because his work isn’t.

You mess with Beckett because he was ambiguous enough to be durable

and specific enough to be timeless.

You mess with Beckett because nothing is flawless.

You mess with Beckett because it's still not yet time for the painkiller.

You mess with Beckett because Godot still hasn’t arrived.

Because Krapp is still listening and we’re all still listening to Krapp.

You mess with Becket because nothing is ever finished.

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