Many will consider the phrase “classic avant-garde” to be an oxymoron, but it perfectly describes the reputation and work of the Irish-born novelist and playwright Samuel Beckett. Gaining a prominence in the post-WWII period and continuing to inspire controversy until his death in 1989, Beckett was a leader in the anti-realism corner of the theatre world with works such as Waiting For Godot, Endgame, and Krapp’s Last Tape. His theatre pieces have been a major influence on an entire generation of other playwrights, including Tom Stoppard and Harold Pinter, as well as novelists and modernist composers. Interestingly, also in that circle of influence was the late Czech Republic president, Vaclav Havel, who began his career as a playwright in the Prague theatre scene.
While the Beckett plays mentioned above are among those regularly performed, other works—particularly his shorter, more minimal, and more recent plays—are probably unfamiliar to most theatre-goers as performance. Adding to this issue was Beckett’s—and now his estate’s—insistence that the works be performed strictly as the playwright originally intended.
Thankfully, exploring the avant-garde environment of Beckett’s lesser known plays is welcome territory for Knoxville theatre director Dennis E. Perkins. In association with his Knoxville Children’s Theatre colleague and producer, Zack Allen, and Caroline King, Perkins is directing three of Beckett’s short plays for Knoxville audiences this month with two weekends of performances at the Hive. On the bill are Beckett’s Catastrophe from 1982, Footfalls (1976), and Come and Go (1965).
“We do a lot of plays,” Perkins says, “but it is a lot of children’s plays right now. This is an opportunity for us to produce stuff, adult theatre, that had excited us a long time ago, and has continued to excite us. We each made lists of plays that we liked and would want to do. Beckett is something I’ve been in love with for a long time. In fact, years ago I directed Zack in a production of [Beckett’s] Play at the Bijou.”
This trio of plays will be a significant opportunity for hungry theatre-goers eager to explore a dramatic world that departs from the constraints of plot, location, and time.
Footfalls, featuring actors Caroline King and Carrie Booher Thompson, will be quite at home in January’s frigid grayness. In rehearsal notes, Beckett wrote: “You feel cold. The whole time, in the way you hold your body too. Everything is frost and night.”
In Come and Go, three childhood friends meet and talk about aspects of their lives. In what might be termed geometric minimalism, the play contains only 121 words that are repeated in 3 segments of 7 lines each. Performing will be Caroline King, Biz Lyon, and Carrie Booher Thompson.
Catastrophe was commissioned for a night of support for playwright Vaclav Havel, who would later be the first president of the Czech Republic. In it, a “Director” and his “Assistant” assemble a production which consists only of one man, “The Protagonist.” The cast includes Kevin Collins, Tyler Gregory, and Biz Lyon.