On Beckett

Ben Miles Reviews - Theater
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“My mistakes are my life” is a notable quotable from Irish novelist and absurdist playwright Samuel Beckett. But make no mistake about it: Bill Irwin’s (nearly) solo biographical drama, On Beckett (a homage to Samuel Beckett and his bleak, but darkly comical take on humanity and his purported belief that we exist in a purposeless, chaotic universe), is no mistake and not without purpose.

Rather, On Beckett — conceived and performed by the affably agile and insightful Bill Irwin — is a pointed seminar on Beckett and his scatter-shot take on words, language, and meaning (or lack thereof). Nevertheless, Irwin’s On Beckett is not pedantic; it is informative while being immensely entertaining.

Samuel Beckett was born Irish in 1906. He lived until 1989 and saw a world that suffered the horrors of the Holocaust, witnessed nuclear annihilation, and saw the emergence of the philosophy of existentialism, which holds that the most important consideration for individuals is that they are individuals—independently acting and responsible, conscious beings ("existence")—instead of  the labels, roles, stereotypes, definitions or other preconceived categories that individuals may be assigned.

But Irwin’s perspective with regard to Beckett is not as a scholar or philosopher. Irwin’s point-of-view comes from his experience as an actor; he’s played various parts in various productions of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, including a Broadway staging of Godot, co-starring alongside Steve Martin and Robin Williams (it’s pronounced as “God-o” by Irwin, which he explains by way of humorous anecdotes).

In 89-minutes we not only learn of Beckett’s literary and dramatic contributions to the western canon (many of which Beckett wrote in French), we also delight in Irwin’s lighthearted abilities as an entertainer. Irwin, accomplished in the art of clowning, shows us the importance of the bowler hat in Godot and in clowing generally — recall Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp persona, bowler hat, big shoes and all. But inherent in Irwin’s On Beckett is Irwin’s exquisite interpretation of Beckett’s words. On the surface the words, the syntax, and the oddly grammatical constructions could seem like the ramblings of a madman; yet under the skillful interpretive abilities of Bill Irwin, the language becomes alive, provocative, and entertaining. With a bit of help from boy actor Carl Barber (trading off with Benjamin Taylor), On Beckett, adds depth to, while also subtlety questioning Beckett’s statement that “words are all we have.”

On Beckett continues at the Kirk Douglas Theatre through October 27.  The Kirk Douglas Theatre is located at 9820 Washington Boulavard, Culver City. Evening performances are Tuesdays-Saturdays at 8 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on Sundays.  Matinees are Saturdays at 2 p.m. and Sundays at 1 p.m. For reservations call (213)628-2772. For online ticketing and further information visit www.centertheatregroup.org