Wingspan Theatre Company masters Beckett's work in 'Two by Beckett - Footfalls & Not I'
Updated: Jan 16, 2020
On the opening night of Wingspan Theatre Company's 22nd season, I had the opportunity to witness a theatrical rarity. Presenting two of Samuel Beckett's deep cuts - Footfalls and Not I, Wingspan has accomplished a transcendent evening of theatre. Transcendent in that you likely haven't seen anything like this on a stage and won't see it again. It was also transcendent in that Wingspan Theatre Company's Producing Artist Director Susan Sargeant has directed a unique and fascinating production - she's also created a masterclass for how to perform Beckett, and how to watch Beckett.
In Footfalls (Act I), Jennifer Kuenzer plays the ghostly character of May. It was a carefully choreographed piece - Sargeant held true to Beckett's instruction that the pacing should be "like a metronome" - but Kuenzer's emotional presence made the pacing seem less like choreography and more like a panacea for May's madness. In the short play, May paces outside of her mother's sick room. Whether the unseen mother is alive or not is one of the more interesting thinking points of the play, and I found it intriguing that Kuenzer embodied both the voice of May and the voice of the mother. Her back and forth internal dialogue, to me, expresses a yearning for May's former self. She looks and feels like an apparition and is searching for an unnamed or unknown balm. It's fascinating but it's also familiar. Beckett has written it in an abstract way, but who of us hasn't pulled an all-nighter - pacing, yearning, and hoping for something we've lost but can't seem to find or even name? Kuenzer hit all the right emotional notes and kept me rapt with her vocal diversity and interpretation of May's deep-seeded loss.
The designers contributed a great deal to Footfalls as well. Sound Designer Lowell Sargeant chose eerie, shattered, and syncopated pre-show music that set the tone for the piece. Costume Designer Barbara Cox created a layered and visually surprising nightgown of rags. The more you look, the more you see. It was a fantastic visual echo of May's mind. Lighting Designer Christopher Ham created a haunty blue and purple-toned arena, which was a stark contrast to the sharp, acute line of light emerging from the bedroom door.
In Not I (Act II), Susan Sargeant plays the Mouth. And wow...the mouth. The mouth...is exquisite. It's a sight to behold. I sat awestruck as a singular light features the mouth, which is silent and waiting during the intermission break. Then, when the play begins, the singular light undulates and brightens on the mouth. My eyes and ears focused on the sharp red lipstick and white teeth and as I waited for the mouth to speak I realized my senses had been altered: my eyes and my ears shut out my surroundings as if a switch had been flipped, and the room beyond the black expanse of the mouth's landscape disappeared. I was a little uneasy, not used to seeing a disembodied mouth, but through my sensory discomfort I was drawn into Sargeant's enthralling performance. I think that's the epitome of an Absurdist experience. The mouth starts with a shadowy, airy expression of breath and builds to a frenetic, repetitive rhythm as it recalls and replays a trauma. Sargeant nails it. I really don't know how else to say it. Not I is gripping and you should see it as soon as you can.
Again, the designers bolstered the experience of the mouth with sophisticated simplicity. Set Designer Nick Brethauer created a stretchy black expanse that effortlessly holds the mouth in place and provides a targeted canvas upon which we can focus our eyes and ears. Lighting Designer Christopher Ham spotlighted the mouth with musicality - the light ebbed and softened and swirled along with the mouth, co-creating the mental spiral of the character.
I sat in the theatre as the piece ended, reflective about the experience. I wasn't sure how I would be able to put it all into words. The plays shook me up a little bit - and I mean that in a good way. By eliminating the traditional framework of theatrical storytelling, Beckett almost boxes-in our audience experience, and by doing that, he shatters the boundaries. As the Director, Sargeant expertly navigated the form. Both actresses, Kuenzer and Sargeant, took the work out of the brain and brought it down into the body and emotions. And absurd or not, we can all relate to an existential hunger. We can all relate to our own human madness and desperation to escape it.
Wingspan Theatre Company presents Two by Beckett - Footfalls and Not I through October 19th at The Bath House Cultural Arts Center, 521 East Lawther Drive, Dallas. For tickets and showtimes, call the box office at (214) 675-6573 or visit Wingspan Theatre Company online at www.wingspantheatre.com.