‘like faintly recalled dream fragments, the images are subjective…spellbinding…presented with style and fire.’ (T.H. Mcculloh L.A. Times, 2000).
‘spare, elliptical…the theatrical equivalent of Japanese Noh theatre…unexpectedly terrifying......performances this brilliant force us to assess the playwright anew. His themes are universal, his means of expressing them staggeringly unique. We can't afford to let Beckett fade from our performance culture.’ Paul Hodgins, (Orange County Register, 2000).
'...striking…intensely focused and resonant performances…a remarkable combination of vocal discipline, emotional depth, and intelligence.' (Anna McMullan, Irish Theatre Magazine, 2004)
“…the images on stage linger in the mind and some of the more resonant lines remain etched in memory…one never tires of Boyette’s rich, sensitive and almost hypnotic voice… Saturday night’s audience…gave THE BECKETT PROJECT a standing ovation.” (Collette Sheridan, Irish Examiner, 2004)
'Stylistically enigmatic and spare […] surprisingly moving, tender and poetic […]glacial slowness acquires an acutely intense effect.' (Lue Allen, Isthmus, 2006)
'…stunning performances…' (Jerri Daboo, Total Theatre Magazine, 2004)
The Beckett Project began in 1995 as a collaboration between UK-based director and actor-trainer, Phillip Zarrilli and American actress, Patricia Boyette. The project applies Zarrilli's pre-performative/psychophysical training and it principles to the unique demands that Beckett’s theatrical minimalism make on the actor’s stamina and awareness by providing intensive training in Asian martial arts and yoga. For a number of years after their first meeting in 1995, Boyette and Zarrilli regularly consulted with Billie Whitelaw, a close collaborator of Beckett’s throughout his lifetime, and originator of a number of his female roles.
The Beckett Project officially opened at the Grove Theater Center, Los Angeles, in 2000 withOhio Impromptu, Not I, Act Without Words I, and Rockaby. The evening won critical acclaim, including two major greater Los Angeles area theatre awards. In 2001 The Beckett Project toured the UK with performances at the Leicester Haymarket, Charter Theatre (Preston), Exeter Phoenix, Cochran Theatre (London), and Chapter Arts Centre (Cardiff).
Spearheaded by actress, Bernadette Cronin, a second major staging of The Beckett Project took place at the Granary Theatre, Cork (Ireland) in 2004. Joining Zarrilli and Boyette in Cork were four Ireland-based actors: Bernadette Cronin, Regina Crowley, Andy Crook, and Maureen Pendergast. Zarrilli led an intensive five week training and rehearsal process that culminated in performances of the four original productions, plus three additional plays--Eh Joe, Footfalls and Play. The expanded Beckett Project provided a unique opportunity to see seven of Beckett’s plays organized into two programmes of approximately two hours each.
- Programme #1 Ohio Impromptu, Play, and Eh Joe
- Programme #2 Not I, Footfalls, Act Without Words I, and Rockaby.
In 2006 the original programme of four plays was performed in the United States, again to critical acclaim. The Beckett Project was on tour in Indianapolis in May-June, 2009.
In 2010, Gaitkrash (Cork, Ireland) invited Zarrilli to re-rehearse and stage the 2004 production of Play (with Regina Crowley, Andy Crook, and Bernadette Cronin) site-specifically in the National Sculpture Factor in Cork, with Gaitkrash sound artist, Mick O'Shea creating a sound-scape/response to the space and production. In 2012 this version of Play was restaged at the Cork Opera House for a Beckett Festival.
In 2012, Martio Frendo--Artistic Director of the Malta Arts Festival--invited The Beckett Project to give performances of our original set of four plays, as well as to premiere our production of Happy Days.
WORKING ON BECKETT'S LATER PLAYS
If the kind of in-depth psychophysical training I teach takes one to the “edge of a breath” where thought takes shape as impulse/action—a place where one “stands still while not standing still,” Beckett’s plays take the actor to this same place “between” where meanings, associations, and experiences are left open for the audience. The Chinese philosopher, Lao Tsu might have called this “the space between heaven and earth.”
Both the actor’s work and Beckett’s plays inhabit this state or place “between.” Herbert Blau describes this place between as one that “stink[s] most of mortality” (1982a: 83). The “stink of mortality” derives from both Beckett’s contrapuntal turns of thought, and the often excruciatingly difficult process of embodiment required of the actor in his plays. One way of describing these demands is that the actor’s bodymind is precariously counterpoised and counterbalanced “on the edge of a breath” (ibid.: 86). Acting Beckett highlights those moments of necessary suspension always present in acting, as the actor rides the breath/thought/action—that moment of absolute exposure where the possibility of failure is palpable. It is in that moment of possible failure that perceiving consciousness (or action) bodies forth because it must. Beckett and Blau require of the actor an unremitting attention to engaging “the necessary”—the “consciousness that it must be seen, what would make the word come even if there were no breath” (ibid.: 86).
What Beckett’s plays demand of the actor is not the creation of characters nor the realization of conventional dramatic action, but an embodied actualization of thought as perceiving consciousness in action as it happens (unthinkingly) in the moment.
Beckett makes special demands on the actor—an attentiveness to an indeterminate necessary—actions and words whose meanings cannot be foreclosed. Jonathan Kalb argues that a poetics of Beckett performance should follow the simple standard that “ambiguity [is] . . . a positive performance value” (1989: 48). This ambiguity is part of the structure and content of Beckett’s plays, of their musicality where there is no realist progression to a narrative or character-based conclusion. Discussing the indeterminacy of Beckett, Blau cites the example of Footfalls:
'What I was always moved by in Beckett . . . was a certain manic fitfulness of mind, as in the iterations of Footfalls: “it all, it all.” Where you could virtually bite your tongue over the painful indeterminacy of that (w)hole in it. It all, it all. What’s the referent?' (Blau 1994: 59)
The iterative ambiguity of Beckett’s plays challenges conventional dramatic modes of representation and meaning. This is why it is such a challenge to work on Beckett's shorter/later plays.
FULL REVIEWS OF THE BECKETT PROJECT
"DREAMLIKE APPEAL OF BECKETT'S WORK EVIDENT AT GROVE" by TH McCulloh, L.A. Times, 2000
...Three of these plays were written during Beckett latter years (Beckett died in 1989). They are mere thoughts‑‑or, rather, experiences, for thought is not Beckett's message. Like faintly recalled dream fragments, his images are subjective, and often spellbinding. They insinuate themselves into the viewer's mind and heart...
OHIO IMPROMPTU, directed and performed by Phillip Zarrilli and Peader Kirk, presents a mirror image, two men with flowing gray wigs, heads bent forward and hidden by a supporting hand...One (Zarrilli)...reads from a book...The calm, and the quietude, sink into one as in a dream, onself going back and reliving, going back and reliving.
Zarrilli, with assistance by Kirk, is also featured in ACT WITHOUT WORDS ONE (1956), a mime play in which Zarrilli rushes into the light, is tripped up, rises and dusts himself off. He stares in utter confusion into space, then walks off. Suddenly he rushes back, is tripped up and it begins again. The feeling of a treadmill of life passing the man by each time is indelible and frightening.
Patricia Boyette appears in two of the pieces, NOT I, in which only her illuminated mouth is seen, with breathless speed recalling a life that is rushing to its doom without understanding, without sense. A similar moment is captured in ROCKABYE, with Boyette as an aging woman fighting her way through memory and pain and boredom toward her oblivion, as her voice laconically drones on, pauses. When the voice pauses, the woman says, "More," and continues rocking into her eternity.
All three of these performers are well‑versed in Beckett...All three understand Beckett's intent and present these minimal works with style and the fire Beckett provides...It is a gratifying evening...
AN EVENING OF THE ABSURD: A talented trio reminds us of the importance of Beckett’s legacy by Paul Hodgins, Orange County Register, 2000
THE BECKETT PROJECT...is not for theatrical lightweights...Spare, elliptical, devoid of almost any movement, [these four plays] are the theatrical equivalent of Japanese noh theater. And, like noh, they're unexpectedly terrifying; they share its sense of silent, hysterical desperation.
...the audience's abilities are nothing compared with the skills required of the performers. Each play demands absolute mastery of vocal and muscle control, not to mention the stamina and strength of an athlete.
Fortunately, performer‑directors Patricia Boyette, Phillip Zarrilli and Peader Kirk know exactly what they're doing. Their consummate success with this daunting material transforms THE BECKETT PROJECT from a curiosity into one of the don't‑miss events of the theater season...They work the playwright's slender scripts like virtuosos playing a delicate instrument.
In OHIO IMPROMPTU...the text is fragmented, repetitive. It seems to deal with sadness and loss. Halfway through, you realize the people referred to by the reader in the third person may be this strange, lonely pair. The scene ends with an action of almost unbearable beauty: with glacial slowness, the two figures let their hands fall from their faces and look at each other.
In NOT I...the disembodied mouth talks constantly, frenetically, as if she fears that silence is death. Again, the character seems to be referring to herself, although she denies it in an oft‑repeated refrain: What? Who? No! She! It's a hypnotic, disconcerting piece of absurdist theater.
ACT WITHOUT WORDS I is a silence scene for two actors. Zarrilli plays a confused man in a dark suit who stumbles violently onstage. Each time he attempts to leave, the action repeats itself. Kirk plays a silent character who presents him with puzzling options: an umbrella to shade him, a pair of scissors to experiment with. But nothing erases the suited man's constant puzzlement with his world.
ROCKABYE appears to be an act of slow suicide...finally, she stops rocking, her head slumped over.
...performances this brilliant force us to assess the playwright anew. His themes are universal, his means of expressing them staggeringly unique. We can't afford to let Beckett fade from our performance culture. Thanks to...Boyette, Zarrilli, and Kirk, he won't.
THE BECKETT PROJECT won greater L.A. awards for Patricia Boyette as ‘best actress’ and the ‘mas heuvos’ award for courageous producing.
Excerpts from reviews of THE BECKETT PROJECT at Granary Theatre, Cork, Ireland
THE IRISH EXAMINER: Tuesday, June 1, 2004
“…the images on stage linger in the mind and some of the more resonant lines remain etched in memory…”
“[In] Rockaby [Boyette] plays an elderly Victorian-looking lady rocking on a chair, totally alone with a recorded commentary…slowly marking time. And this is very much a piece about time, its slow but determined nature which, from an old lady’s linear perspective, ends ‘at the close of a long day.’ While the lines of recorded commentary are often repeated, one never tires of Boyette’s rich, sensitive and almost hypnotic voice., Her lines are beautifully enunciated.
“And the casting is spot on. When the commentary speaks of ‘famished eyes’, one can’t help but notice Boyette’s hollow eyes stare which continues ‘until her end came. Off her head, they said, but harmless.’
“There is great humanity in Beckett whether he is describing loneliness, boredom, futility, or desperation. Not I…features nothing more on stage than a pair of red illuminated woman’s lips appearing on a totally blacked out stage apart from a hooded ‘auditor’. The mouth belongs to Boyette and the auditor, who does nothing except receive the increasingly frantic statements from the mouth, is played by Regina Crowley.
“The mouth is incredibly verbally dexterous, spewing out what seems to be the story of a lifetime, a premature baby turned wait, turned old person. There is reference to a constant ‘buzzing’ in the brain and while the imagery on stage is minimal, the outpourings conjure up desperation. But does the mouth take succour from its comment, at the end, that ‘God is love’, one wonders?
“Bernie Cronin plays May in Footfalls: a woman dressed in what suggests grey, musty cobwebs, she paces the stage while a disembodied voice (Mairin Pendergast) carries on a conversation with her. The voice is that of May’s mother who says that there is no sleep so deep that she could not hear her. ‘Would you like me to inject you again,” says May to her mother. She mentions dressing bed sores, providing a bed pan and praying with her mother. It is a bleak existence acknowledged by the mother, who apologises for having given birth to her daughter so late in life, thereby growing old, useless and in need of care.
“Act Without Words I is acted by Phillip Zarrilli who is tortured by an unknown presence. His facial expression compensates for the total absence of language in this piece. Saturday night’s audience at the Granary gave THE BECKETT PROJECT a standing ovation.”
THE IRISH TIMES: Wednesday, May 26 and Thursday, May 27, 2004
‘…sophistocated presentation…standards subtle but high…
‘A scabrous lace dress catches the gothic miseries of Footfalls, where a mother’s voice (enriched by the trance-like tones of Mairin Prendergast) measures the paces of her captive daughter (Bernie Cronin); a beseeching shade provokes a cataract of reminiscence from someone reduced to a mouth (Patricia Boyette and Regina Crowley) in Not I; Zarrilli himself is the man repeatedly offered and denied the essentials of life in Act Without Words I; and the programme enters tenebrae with Patricia Boyette in the freighted silences of Rockaby.’
CORK EVENING ECHO: Tuesday, May 25 and Wednesday, May 26, 2004
‘Zarrilli’s direction…brings a stillness to the plays, expertly lit by Kath Geraghty to a superb costume design, particularly in Footfalls and Rockaby by Heidi Love…[Beckett’s] voice is well served…Play is like a verbal pinball machine, lighting up to the story of a love triangle that is burning out…The discipline of the actors is to be marveled at as Bernie Cronin, Andy Crook, and Regina Crowley appear like three coiled springs of verbal energy…In Not I Boyette’s staccato burst of speech is like being brought off in a literary ghost train. Bernie Cronin brings a dreamlike quality to her performance in Footfalls…[as she] catches the quality of an isolated life disintegrating into itself and gives real resonance to line like, ‘Will you never have done revolving it all in your poor mind?’…Rockaby is like a Godless prayer by an old woman nearing the end.’