Posted by Kristin Travagline
The abstract plays of Samuel Beckett suit an abstract performance space. "The Jewel Thief" exhibit in the Frances Young Tang Teaching and Art Museum at Skidmore College created the perfect atmosphere for Beckettshorts, which ran from Nov. 11-13.
The director intelligently used the space by creating a haunting, mysterious and, at times, magical mood that complimented Beckett's writing. Even before entering the gallery, the performers drew the audience into the performance. A mannequin stood in the glass-windowed vestibule that led into the gallery. She displayed a yellow jacket, a matching wide-brimmed hat and bright red lipstick.
That is, many thought she was a mannequin until the figure emitted a loud, high-pitched shriek, sending frightened audience members briskly moving into the gallery. Likewise, other actors manned the lobby, some completely still, others slowly revolving about the room, surveying the audience with gaunt eyes.
This production immersed the audience in the theatrical experience. Throughout the entire performance, the audience stayed in close proximity to the actors.
Although several audience members had to stand during the first play, the venue made for an intimate experience that is difficult to achieve on a conventional stage where the distance between the audience and actors is rarely breached. This arrangement suited the content of the plays, which largely contemplate the nature of humanity.
The first play, "Footfalls," took place in the main lobby of the gallery. The play began in darkness when a shadowy figure entered from stage left, filling the audience with anticipation. A single light, far right, came up and revealed the actor with dark circles under her sunken eyes, costumed in a heavy, grey cloak.
A clock tolled and she methodically paced across the floor. She turned to look out at the audience and uttered with a deep, haunting voice, "Mother?" A voice, seeming to emit from the single light stationed high up on the second floor stairs, replied, "Yes, May."
The dialogue between the daughter and invisible mother continued with May repeatedly pacing back and forth, only halting her footsteps to speak. Cleverly, the single light created an illuminated rectangle on the dark floor, indicating the bare patch of carpet that May's feet had worn down.
The final lines of the play suggested that May's mother existed only in her imagination, "It is all in your poor mind." Claire Saxe '11 played the part convincingly, using a simultaneously controlled and passionate voice. Saxe delivered her lines with emphasized pronunciation and rhythm, which captured the intensity of her character.
As the lights went out and the toll of a clock rang out again, a member of the audience jumped in his seat, a testament to the powerful performance.
When the first play finished ushers led the audience into the main room of the exhibit where the audience took their seats on the piece "Jewel Thief," which consists of geometrically shaped platforms made of wood and the colorful plastic-covered metal seen on playground equipment. "Come and Go," "Breath," "What Where" and "Radio I" were also staged in this area of the gallery.
The striking costumes in "Come and Go" channeled the eye candy of the surrounding exhibit. The characters, Flo (Sophia Lewis '14), Vi (Dara Silverman '13) and Ru (Alexia Zarras '14) wore yellow, red and purple tweed jackets respectively and matching wide brimmed hats, which concealed their faces. Only their bright red mouths remained exposed.
One by one, each woman stood up, walked to the corner of the platform and the remaining two women gossiped about her, smug smiles stretching their bright lips.
"What Where," although one of the most confusing plays of the evening, best took advantage of the gallery space. The play included five actors who played the Voice (Alexander Greaves '12), Bom (Ben Jurney '14), Bim (Brandon O'Sullivan '11), Bem (Grady Shea '13) and Bam (Sam Szabo '11). The characters dressed identically, wearing long grey jackets and long grey wigs.
With the lights out, the characters emerged from behind several large boxes ascending in height that form part of the exhibit. Greaves, playing the Voice, stood stationary far left near the smallest box, holding a flashlight to his face in the darkness.
The Voice narrated, in a deliberately monotone robotic voice and even controlled the action, which he stopped, rewound and replayed several times saying, "Not good, I start again."
The other four actors walked rapidly through the exhibit with their heads down, hair hanging over their faces and arms outstretched. The dark forms of paintings, sculptures and hanging lanterns added to the other-worldly atmosphere.
"Catastrophe," was staged even deeper in the exhibit on a carpeted patch of floor. Greaves, the Protagonist, gave a moving performance, standing on a stool, shivering in his long johns as the director O'Sullivan and the assistant, Lewis, analyzed his appearance and exploited his suffering by casting his miserable shadow on the gallery wall.
The audience looped back to the main lobby for the final performance, "Quad," during which four actors (Greaves, Jurney, Silverman and Szabo), clad in colorful hooded cloaks, paced in rapid, square patterns set to a drum beat and colorful lighting.
Leaving the museum, the mysterious magic of the evening lingered like the feeling of recalling a vivid dream.