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Theatre Z's 'Shuffle' gets Beckett right

January 13, 2006|F. Kathleen Foley

If not done precisely, Samuel Beckett's works can be purgatorial, as anyone who has suffered through botched Beckett can tell you. Fortunately, director-designer R.S. Bailey, who worked with Beckett on a 1977 production of "Krapp's Last Tape" in Berlin, avoids the obvious pitfalls in "Shuffle, Shuffle, Step," the inaugural production of Theatre/Theater's handsome new space on Pico Boulevard. Produced by Theatre Z in honor of Beckett's centennial year, the three short Beckett plays in "Shuffle" are strikingly austere and meditative, with flashes of gallows' humor as faint as the shadow of a noose on an overcast day.

Appropriately, Bailey plays Krapp in the closing play. One of Beckett's most celebrated characters, the elderly, isolated Krapp continually replays his own tape-recorded diary -- a litany of missed opportunities and lost love. Although Bailey's cherubic and youthful appearance is somewhat at odds with his sadly attenuated protagonist, it's a touching, cautionary tale, well-rendered.

Finely calibrated also is the middle play, "Footfalls," performed by Mary Dryden as May, and Nicolette Chaffey as the voice of May's offstage mother. Dead-eyed and affectless, May paces the same nine steps, back and forth, while her mother querulously repeats, "Will you never have done?" Whether they are the pointless peregrinations of a madwoman or some desperate attempt at expiation, May's actions -- and Dryden's performance -- are affectingly enigmatic.

The show opens with "Rough for Theatre I," a precursor to Beckett's masterwork, "Endgame." Billy Hayes plays A, a blind street musician in a bleak wasteland. In a vaulting, Shakespearean turn, Jeff Murray portrays B, domineering and disabled, whose attempts to exploit A explode into violence. Vivid and larger-than-life, Murray elucidates the poetic beauty of Beckett's elusive text in the strongest performance of this rewarding evening.

-- F. Kathleen Foley

"Shuffle, Shuffle, Step," Theatre/Theater, 5041 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. ("Footfalls" will be performed Fridays only, "Rough for Theatre I" will be performed Saturdays only.) Ends Feb. 11. $15. (323) 466-3134. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes

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