Review: ‘Beckett Trio, Part 2’ by Scena Theatre

Scena Theatre’s 'Beckett Trio, Part 2' may not be for everyone, but it is most certainly a rare treat for those who love their Samuel Beckett and who may not have seen many of his shorter plays. Add it to your Beckett bucket list.

Ready for your Samuel Beckett fix? A fix for the lesser-known, very short-form works by the winner of the 1969 Nobel Prize for Literature? If you are the least bit curious and open to a quieter form of dramatic truth-telling, one particular gritty playlet in Scena Theatre’s Beckett Trio, Part 2 is ready to serve as a political indictment of real events in our contemporary times.

Kim Curtis and Buck O’Leary in ‘Beckett Trio, Part 2.’ Photo by Jae Yi Photography.

Scena’s Beckett Trio, Part 2 is both a gateway and roadmap to the lasting quality of Beckett. The venerable Scena Artistic Director Robert McNamara is the DC area’s long-time, local guide into the timeless, enigmatic Beckett canon. For Beckett Trio, Part 2, McNamara has packaged together three short theatrical works that appear disparate at least on their surfaces: Ohio Impromptu, Come and Go, and Catastrophe.

With his disciplined, restrained directing style, McNamara nudges an audience into traveling through dimensions that a different master of enigma and the human condition, The Twilight Zone’s Rod Serling, described as those of “sight, sound and mind.” Over the years, McNamara has developed a distinctly unglossy touch with non-naturalistic texts full of off-kilter possible meanings. Even more so, he has developed a cadre of actors attuned to unflashy subtle small moments that bring enlightenment and the joys of the vague.

In the case of Scena’s Beckett Trio, Part 2, the ensemble of actors are Buck O’Leary, Kim Curtis, Jen Bevarelli, Ellie Nicoll, and Lewshá-Camille Simboura.

Ohio Impromptu is a piece for anyone who has loved deeply and lost that love. Two people appear seated at a table when the lights go up. They wear long blond wigs and dark clothing, their faces somewhat obscured. The Reader (Buck O’Leary) is reading a book to the Listener (Kim Curtis). Are they doppelgangers of the same person? Is it all a dream? Were they once lovers? In a deep hypnotic baritone voice, the Reader speaks of a life together. It is a sad tale with warnings about making changes that ultimately cause harm. Phrases such as “little is left to tell” are book-ended with “the sad tale a last time told.” There is no give-and-take “conversation” between the two beyond a percussive knock at intervals when the Listener needs words retold or wants to make a point. What happens over the about 15 minutes of Ohio Impromptu is mysterious and hypnotic, far from mindless or mind-numbing. There is no blustering or ranting, but the ending is far from quiet as it fades to black.

Come and Go is a choreographed dream of precision, small movement, and a few deftly placed words among three women: one dressed in deep blue/black (Ellie Nicoll), another in sharp red (Jen Bevarelli), and the third in a spring green (Lewshá-Camille Simboura). They wear hats that obscure their eyes and foreheads. The three sit close together on a bench. At first, they interact silently, then with deliberate whispers and reactions such as sucking in their breath, one-word exclamations, and still others unknowable. At times, one woman removes herself from the bench as if sleepwalking in an angular manner. But each of the three has a turn disappearing, then reappearing. The playlet begins with a question, “when did we last meet.” It ends with the three responding “let us hold hands as we once did.” They do in such a gorgeous manner. The lovely costume design by Mei Chen seems influenced by the past, yet contemporary.

Buck O’Leary in ‘Beckett Trio, Part 2.’ Photo by Jae Yi Photography.

The third playlet is a most prescient one, Catastrophe. It is dedicated to Czech dissident, playwright, and political prisoner Vaclav Havel. Havel had been imprisoned by the Communists for his outspokenness. I could only think of connections to contemporary real events of human degradation at Abu Ghraib. In the case of Catastrophe, there is a director (Buck O’Leary), an assistant (Jen Bevarelli), and a protagonist (Kim Curtis) who is standing on a plinth. The director is a tyrant, the assistant tries to subvert in her own way, and the protagonist doesn’t say a word. Eyes can say so much as they do with the emphatic lighting design by Jonathan Alexander and set by John D. Antone.

Scena Theatre’s Beckett Trio, Part 2 may not be for everyone, but it certainly deserves more than a passing glance in our DMV theater landscape. It is most certainly a rare treat for those who love their Samuel Beckett and who may not have seen many of his shorter plays. Add it to your Beckett bucket list. Beckett is timeless, and we can each read into his works what we will. I like that.

Running Time: Sixty-five minutes with no intermission.

Beckett Trio, Part 2 plays through May 5, 2019, presented by Scena Theatre at Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H Street NE, Washington, DC. For tickets, go online.

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David Siegel
David Siegel is a freelance theater reviewer and features writer whose work appears on DC Metro Theater Arts, ShowBiz Radio, in the Connection Newspapers and the Fairfax Times. He is a judge in the Helen Hayes Awards program. He is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and volunteers with the Arts Council of Fairfax County. David has been associated with theater in the Washington, DC area for nearly 30 years. He served as Board President, American Showcase Theater Company (now Metro Stage) and later with the American Century Theater as both a member of the Executive Board and as Marketing Director. You can follow David's musings on Twitter @pettynibbler.

2 COMMENTS

  1. I am a long time friend of “Buck” O`Leary and have always been an admirer of his acting skills, on and off the
    stage. He definitely has a” deep, hypnotic,baritone voice” that lends itself well to song, also.
    I live in “Ohio” and will not be able to attend the Beckett trio but I would dearly love to.
    Buck is a hidden treasure. Too bad that he didn`t choose acting, instead of law. Can you just imagine him in
    front of a jury ?
    Long time friend and fan, Susan Ziegler

    • Thank you for sharing. And yes, he does have a “deep, hypnotic, baritone voice” that added enormously to the production.
      I can only imagine what a voice like his would have done before a jury.

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