After seeing her haunting Beckett Trilogy at the Broad Stage this past Thursday, I would not hesitate to call Lisa Dwan a necromancer. As the audience is quite literally swallowed entirely by the darkness that pervades the auditorium, Dwan breathes life into the ether of the blackness in a fashion unlike quite nearly anything I have yet to see in Los Angeles, aided by the words of the only man capable of such sorcery – the legendary playwright Samuel Beckett.
Beckett's oeuvre does not exactly leap off the bookshelves into the eager arms of the common literary purveyor. His texts, from the seminal post-war absurdist "Waiting for Godot" to his fatalistic magnum opus "Endgame," is thick with the avant-garde expressionist sentiment that quickly turns away those looking for explicitly detailed plot and character. His legacy lies in the abstract – yet Ms. Dwan makes his concepts specific. So specific, in fact, that as we let the ethereal, haunting 55-minute trilogy wash over us, we experience a flooding of untapped sensation that can only be triggered by stories of this deep a caliber.
Perhaps the most unnerving part of the show – the part that sends the weakest audience members into a panic and out of the theatre – is the first few minutes of "Not I," the first part of the trilogy in which Dwan's mouth is illuminated by a thin beam of light spitting out a lightning-fast, barely intelligible tale of horrid abuse and trauma over the span of nine minutes. In one of the more hallucinogenic moments of the show, Dwan's mouth appeared to be floating around in slow, swooping circles, though this could not be discerned through the pitch black surrounding her. It is hellish, disorienting, panic-inducing, and seems to last forever, but just like time and even life itself, it ends abruptly and its brevity speaks volumes.
"Footfalls," in which Dwan paces back and forth in a shaft of light as the ghostly voice of her deceased mother haunts her, showcases the actress in her most vulnerable state of beauty. The vulnerability she displays in the face of the darkness, now as much of a palpable character as to actually create tension onstage, fuels her determination to confront her past, present, and future; the sound and image of her feet landing on the solid ground reverberates throughout the space in what becomes an eerie dreamlike vignette examining the firm, sometimes unrelenting grasp of love and familial obligation.
The final piece – and the most heartbreaking – is "Rockaby," in which Dwan sits in a loone rocking chair which rocks back and forth of its own accord, listening to her own voice lament the "close of a long day" and implore that it is "time she stopped." As the voice trails off, she sits forward and begs for "More!" as the cycle repeats itself four more times until her head finally lolls to the side in death. Where she makes friends with and resides in the darkness in "Not I" and begins to confront it in "Footfalls," she submits to its power in "Rockaby," letting her memory slip into the past and allowing us to process our own journey.
I should challenge anyone who did not experience some sort of spiritual revival or enlightening from this production to go see a shrink. I will be frank in saying that the piece is not, per se, enjoyable. But of its own merit, it stands alone as Beckett incarnate. Dwan commands the stage and the text with a boldness and an openness uncompromising in its severity. The rivers and channels of truth beneath Beckett's incantations flow out into the house and envelope us in the sort of discomfort that can only resonate from contact made with the barest part of our soul and the most desperate realm of our psyche. As the lights come up, we almost beg for them to go back down in order to retain the intimacy we have experienced in this hour. Dwan may be retiring this production after her stint at the Broad, but what she has created will leave far much more of an impact.
Reach Theatre Editor Ryan Brophy at firstname.lastname@example.org.