Beckett’s ‘Play’ Urns Applause


Alexandra Duncan, Entertainment Editor

A dull roar filled the auditorium as a crowd filed in for the opening night of “Play” by Samuel Beckett last Friday.

“Play” follows the garbled, static-like dialogue of three characters: Man (Jared Ogassian), Woman 1 (Fiona Simonian) and Woman 2 (Amanda Pepper), each telling their side of the story regarding an extramarital affair.

Beckett’s unique love triangle in “Play” displays his three characters side-by-side, fully encased — except for their heads — in giant, green-blue colored urns. Each character’s face appears as a green-blue disembodied head peeking out from the urns.

Man is displayed in an urn between his wife, Woman 1, and his mistress, Woman 2.

Man is having an affair with Woman 2 and his wife becomes suspicious when she “smells her on him.” Woman 1 hires a detective to rat Man out, but Man bribes the detective so that he returns with no sufficient evidence of the affair. Man assures his wife that he “could not live without her.”

He surprises Woman 1, however, when he confesses to the affair. Woman 1 finds and threatens to kill his mistress, but she denies the affair and claims to have no idea what she is talking about. Man makes it up with both women, assuring them of his love for them and they both offer to run away with him. Man eventually abandons both of them and each believes he has run off with the other.

“Play” is an absurdist theater production that pays no heed to the traditional setting one might expect to have in a play about an extramarital affair. Beckett wrote “Play” between 1962 to 1963 and it first premiered in German as “Spiel” at the Ulmer Theater in Germany on June 14, 1963.

Samuel Beckett (1906-1989) was an Irish playwright, novelist and poet and one of the prominent names in Absurdist Theatre. A very private man, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 1969, the ceremony of which he did not attend. Many of Beckett’s themes include the struggles of characters in a godless, meaningless and hopeless world. He is best known for “Waiting for Godot,” which he wrote in 1949.

As part of Beckett’s unique dialogue arrangement, the characters often speak over each other in rapid bursts of incomprehensible dialogue, often coming across as word vomit. Throughout the production, lines of dialogue cycle and repeat, and the organizational order of words become meaningless.

One character’s words are indistinguishable from the other’s at times. However, after the characters speak in unison, each character is literally given the spotlight as they speak individually.

Characters are not speaking directly to each other. In fact, they might not even be aware of each other’s presence, however as the play goes on, the characters become increasingly aware of the light, especially Woman 1, who tells it to “get off ” her.

Every time Beckett’s characters speak, the spotlight illuminates their faces. In “Play,” light is associated with the conscious thoughts of the characters, bringing forth their looping memories of the affair to the audience.

This frequent change of lighting made for an impressive use of lighting design by Guido Girardi and coordination of lighting by stage manager Anthony Leyva.

Actors Ogassian, Simonian and Pepper work well together. Amid the chaotic dialogue and random shrill screams, all of the actors manage to create a remarkably entertaining story of a man who cheats on his wife.

Ogassian provides the appropriate male bravado for the play among all of the estrogen-fueled drama and sounded robotic, much to the intention of Beckett’s vision.

Pepper’s role as W2 is the most humorous. She supplies the random, horrific peals of laughter and screams that give way for the audience’s laughter. Although Pepper’s accent makes it difficult to comprehend some of the lines, it is understandable within the chaos of Beckett’s language.

Jeanette Farr is the director of all three of the college’s absurdist theater fall productions: “Play,” “The Bald Soprano” and “Action” by Sam Shepard.

Farr recalled that the playwrights’ works express “the belief that, in a godless universe, human existence has no meaning or purpose and therefore all communication breaks down.”

“Play” and “Bald Soprano” ran at the Auditorium Mainstage Theatre from Oct. 9-19.

“Play” will run again from Oct. 30 to Nov. 9 with the upcoming production of “Action”  at the Auditorium Studio Theatre, Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.