By Kelly Hartog
In February 1956, Irish Times literary critic Vivian Mercer famously wrote of Samuel Beckett’s play “Waiting for Godot,”‘A play in which nothing happens, twice.’
Beckett’s minimalist, avant-garde style of writing, production, and theatrical exposition, is not for everyone. He makes you work. Everything needs to be parsed, and his productions are sparse: the writing, the sets, the silences onstage. With all this in mind, the Odyssey Theatre has chosen to tackle five short Beckett plays, four of which are presented before the intermission.
While the ensemble cast of Alan Abelew, Diane Cignoni, Sheelagh Cullen, Beth Hogan, and Norbert Weisser, all commit themselves with aplomb, there doesn’t appear to be any through line between the pieces. Director Ron Sossi definitely taps into the existential angst of Beckett’s works, but it’s difficult to comprehend why these particular five plays were chosen.
In “Act Without Words II,” Alan Abelew and Beth Hogan are masterful in their minimalist, silent rendition of two people together, yet separate. There’s a palpable discomfort watching this piece. It’s contrasted by “Come and Go” a play with just 121 words, where the three actresses in their pristine, pastel outfits are both best friends and backstabbers.
The third play, “Catastrophe,” was the highlight of the evening, and perhaps the most chilling. Famously written by Beckett as an ode to Vaclav Havel when he was in a Czech prison, Hogan is mesmerizing as the cruel director working with her assistant to display an elderly man to the public. This stark, political piece really deserved to be the first or last one shown and not sandwiched in between “Come and Go” and “Footfalls,” a solo performance by Cignoni that follows her pacing back and forth outside the room of her dying mother.
“Krapp’s Last Tape,” another of Beckett’s better-known pieces, is saved for after the intermission. Weisser turns in a poignant performance as the elderly, dying, Krapp, listen to audiotapes he’s recorded over the last 30 years, and realizing how much he’s wasted his life.
While the production overall is somewhat uneven, the performances by Hogan and Weisser make Beckett 5 worth a look.
Beckett 5 runs through March 5 at the Odyssey Theater. 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles, 90025. Call 310.477.2055 or visit www.odysseytheatre.com