OFF BROADWAY REVIEW
A well-chosen sampler of short Samuel Beckett plays, “Fragments” is beautifully served by director Peter Brook and three expressive actors.
Opening on Sunday at the Baryshnikov Arts Center, this admirable hour-long program presents five works that demonstrate the playwright’s genius at transfiguring gloom ‘n’ doom doings into human comedy.
The absurd-ish “Rough for Theatre I” is a “Waiting for Godot”-style piece involving a blind fiddler and a one-legged rogue. The touching monologues “Rockabye” and “Neither” poetically reflect upon dull but desperate existence. A witty skit for three biddies, “Come and Go” has a warm flavor of Irish music hall.
Beckett’s fondness for clowns like Buster Keaton blossoms forth in the amusing and meaningful “Act Without Words II,” in which two different souls silently go through the same daily routine with contrasting attitudes. Marcello Magni gloomily wheezes with annoyance as the curmudgeon while Jos Houben drolly enjoys every second of his day as the joyful fellow.
Magni and Houben also do ably by the beggars in “Rough for Theatre 1” and as two of the gossiping ladies in “Come and Go.” Joining them for the latter play is sad-eyed Kathryn Hunter, a diminutive actress who simultaneously can be funny and poignant. Clad in rusty black, hands uneasily flickering, Hunter plaintively threads her way through the sadly lyrical repetitions of “Rockabye” and “Neither.”
Co-directing with Marie-Helene Estienne, Brook sensitively stages the plays in austere (but not stark) circumstances provided by the lofty theater’s imposing height and designer Philippe Vialatte’s subtle lighting.
“Delightful” is not a word that most people associate with Beckett, but “Fragments” proves to be a delightful example of the writer’s minimalist gift for mining dark beauty and unexpected humor from even the most hopeless of lives.
Presented by Theatre for A New Audience in association with the Baryshnikov Arts Center, this fine production of C.I.C.T./Theatre des Bouffes du Nord offers a genuine treat for fans of Beckett and also serves to remind theatergoers that, done correctly, the playwright’s works can be as funny as they are profound.
“Fragments” continues through Dec. 4 at the Baryshnikov Arts Center, 450 W. 37th St., New York. Call (866) 811-4111 or visit www.tfana.org.