Minimal theater

Beckett Undressed

Beck (Holly Natwora), Spec (Mary Bennett) and Heel (LaRhonda Etheridge) help dress down Samuel Beckett in <i>Becket Undressed.</i>

Beck (Holly Natwora), Spec (Mary Bennett) and Heel (LaRhonda Etheridge) help dress down Samuel Beckett in Becket Undressed.

Photo By David Robert

Rated 3.0

With a series of performances assembled Act One consists of three minimalist plays. The first, “No News,” is the only piece of the evening not written by Samuel Beckett. Director Stacey Spain, who served up a sample of Beckett Undressed as part of this summer’s Dada Motel, penned the brief farce.

“No News” features three near-silent characters: Beck, Spec and Heel. The trio engages in comedic calisthenics while awaiting a piece of unnamed but important news. A heavily-rouged dame (Mary Bennett), a Chaplinesque cut-up (Holly Natwora) equipped with red umbrella in lieu of a black cane, and a grinning, pig-tailed youngster acting as information courier (La Rhonda Etheridge) summon an atmosphere of playful impatience.

The actors’ deftness at physical comedy earns spontaneous laughter from the audience, but a strong sense of absurdity is the dominant player in this pared-down performance.

Next comes “Imagine Dead Imagine,” a short piece of Beckett’s residua (a designation the playwright applied to his minimalist theatrical works penned after 1960) loosely based on another of Beckett’s later works titled “All Strange Away.” His backdrop a stark black-and-white confluence of half-circles, actor Scott Dundas, referred to as “Man” in the stage directions, is dressed entirely in white. Leaning earnestly into the footlights, he delivers a perplexing monologue concerning light and darkness.

“Man” is joined on stage by two inauspicious fellows: A puppet named Sam and created by Chris Kluge also dressed fully in white, with the requisite puppeteer (Bernie Beauchamp) in tow. Neither of the latter two speaks during the play, but both contribute hugely to the performance with sadly expressive movements that keep time with the narrator’s speech.

“Come and Go” is a brief piece arriving just before the intermission. It is a sympathetic and humorous depiction of three adult women bound by childhood friendship. Joined in empathy, yet emotionally distanced from one other, the women deliver an affecting tableau of ardor, regret and bitterness as they grasp one another at scene’s end.

Act Two finds the audience sitting prepared, with heart strings lightly plucked, for the performance of the evening. The eloquent sparseness of Krapp’s “Last Tape” is brilliantly realized by Scott Beers. The actor was locally praised for his dual portrayal of Mozart and Salieri in Peter Schaffer’s play Amadeus, also brought by Brüka to the Reno stage. Beers is in equally fine form as the elderly Krapp.

Lights fade in, revealing a grizzled old man with wild hair wearing ludicrously small, white leather ladies’ ankle boots. His hunched, beaten frame is swallowed by an oversized suit that offers a sharp visual of genius fizzled out. As he listens to meticulously catalogued audio tapes of himself, Krapp appears mesmerized by the futility of his own routine. He mumbles his way through loud, off-stage drinking bouts, excessive banana consumption and intense wallowing in the past.

The audience is silent, witnessing as Krapp is tormented by the clarity of his 30-years-previous voice flowing from the reel-to-reel.

Krapp’s “Last Tape” proves that even the subtlest stage productions have the potential to twist the knife. As the lights dim on this final play, an evening of minimalist theater is further distilled. Watching an old man inebriated on sour sentimentality and booze is as intimate as watching someone disrobe.