Three of Samuel Beckett’s late one-act plays (from his “ghost period”) are the source material for Sounding Beckett, an interdisciplinary collaboration that is entering its second (and final) weekend of New York performances at Classic Stage Company on September 21-23.Theatre director Joy Zinoman has enlisted a fine cast of actors and resourceful design team, Cygnus Ensemble directed by guitarist William Anderson, and composers Laura Kaminsky, John Halle, Laura Schwendinger, Scott Johnson, David Glaser, and Chester Biscardi to create a production that is both respectful of the playwright’s work and imaginative in its incorporation of music.
Beckett was quite specific about what sounds and music are to be added to his plays: one can’t just insert incidental music willy-nilly without running afoul of his estate. Sounding Beckett avoids this pitfall, instead allowing composers to have the last word: after the actors have left the stage. Each of the plays - Footfalls, Ohio Impromptu, and Catastrophe – has been supplied with a musical “response” by two different composers. A composition is played directly after the performance of each play (the “cast” of composers rotates. This past Sunday afternoon, the show I attended featured music by Schwendinger, Halle, and Kaminsky).
In a talkback after Sunday’s performance, Schwendinger underscored that the pieces we heard were meant as musical responses to the plays: not necessarily programmatic outlines or storytelling. Thus, her piece responded to the strong emotions churning under the surface of Footfalls with sustained passages of controlled, but angst-imbued dissonance. After seeing actor Holly Twyford’s simmering performance in the play, one could readily understand Schwendinger’s poignant, elegantly crafted response.
Halle’s piece after “Ohio Impromptu” featured a more effusive language, with arcing lines surging towards, but never quite reaching, a place of closure and repose. Again, while not mimicking the action on the stage, his music seemed like a kindred spirit to Ted van Griethuysen’s mellifluous reading of a tragic story of love lost; it also resonated with the silent, but facially expressive, performance of actor Philip Goodwin. I was also quite taken with Kaminsky’s composition, which nimbly captured the emotional content portrayed by Catastrophe’s three disparate characters.
Cygnus Ensemble (Anderson, guitarist Oren Fader, flutist Tara-Helen O’Connor, oboist James Austin Smith, violinist Pauline Kim, and cellist Chris Gross) were impressively well-prepared; they performed all of the compositions with top notch musicality. Anderson, a composer himself, has supplied a multifaceted overture and economical music for scene changes. His work draws upon the sound world of modern classical music in a way that is simpatico to the compositions of the featured composers, while also referencing the type of incidental music one hears in current productions of plays in New York. If Anderson needs another hat to wear, he might consider creating incidental music for more plays!
SOUNDING BECKETT will perform Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. from September 21 to 23. Tickets are $50 and $75 and go on sale starting July 20. Tickets can be purchased by calling Ovation Tix at 866-811-4111 or on online at www.soundingbeckett.com