On Beckett with Bill Irwin
On Beckett. One-man show. Conceived and Performed by Bill Irwin. A.C.T. @ The Strand.
Bill Irwin’s latest homage to the great Irish writer Samuel Beckett, with whom he has a heartfelt affinity, is a strong a one-man show that adds to Irwin’s legacy as one of America’s great theater clowns. In this smart exploration, Irwin presents his analysis of Beckett’s characters through his own methodologies of creating his clown personas; through the use of the ubiquitous bowler hat, hugely baggy pants and oversized suit coats and shoes. The sheer power of Irwin’s physical creativity, matched with Beckett’s often comical existential musing’s, are stunning.
Irwin is no stranger to Beckett, having performed Waiting for Godot, Endgame, and an A.C.T. version of Text’s for Nothing. It’s from these three seminal Beckett works that Irwin draws his inspiration for the evening, literally and physically transforming into the blackly humorous characters that inhabit Beckett’s world. Opening with a reading from Text #1 from Text’s for Nothing, Irwin, in a fine bowler, speaks in the Irish voice so familiar to Beckett’s early days. The character is having an argument of the mind, using descriptions of external landscape as a metaphor for internal existential squabbling.
Adding more clown attire and changing the accent to Bostonian, Irwin brings a vaudeville feel to a passage from 1983’s What Where. Another passage from the Texts for Nothing, #9, signals Beckett’s move into Post Modernism. The texts were not meant to be acted and are only shards of dialogue, but Irwin brings these stark characters to life. The language may be fractured, and no real narrative can be observed, still, Irwin breathes life into these beings through the universal embodiment of the clown. He goes “full clown” for Text #11, shifts seamlessly to a soft-shoe number of 1937’s “Me, Myself and I”, and presents a few passages from Godot and Endgame.
Irwin is not the first comic to tackle high drama. One needs only to look at back to Chaplin, Keaton, Gleason, Sellers, Lewis, and more recently, Williams and Murray. Irwin, a Tony Award winner as George in 2005’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, keeps that tradition alive and steps into that pantheon of greats.
Performances run through January 22, 2017. www.act-sf.org 415.749.2228