Ye Un-Merry Gentlemen

Pinter and Beckett send season's greetings: Careful how you unwrap them

JoAnne Akalaitis's four-play assemblage, Beckett Shorts, mixes and matches the three categories, apparently in an effort to structure an evening-long opportunity for Mikhail Baryshnikov—though "long" is hardly the operative word, since the event runs a terse 65 minutes. It's intermissionless, though Act Without Words Iand Act Without Words II, which belong to the wholly abstract division, should have been clearly separated from Rough for Theatre I and Eh Joe, which come from the Hell-equals-Dublin and Hell-is-an-Irishman's-brain categories respectively. Striving to unify these disparate pieces, Akalaitis gives them a dressy, high-tech look, with Alexander Brodsky's sets giving the deserts and ruins that Beckett calls for the aura of a Formica-walled motel.

The tactic fits the clean abstractness of the two "acts without words," in which Baryshnikov, alone in one and paired with dancer-choreographer David Neumann in the other, plays an anonymous figure tormented by an unseen force. Movement is everything here, and Baryshnikov, wearing a helpless, bemused expression, looks awfully fetching in his (Beckett?) shorts. The puckish pastel touches with which Brodsky brightens up the space don't dissipate the works' essential darkness, heightened by Philip Glass's plangent music.

Mikhail Baryshnikov in his Beckett Shorts shorts
photo: Joan Marcus
Mikhail Baryshnikov in his Beckett Shorts shorts

Details

The Homecoming
By Harold Pinter
Cort Theatre
138 West 48th Street
212-239-6200

Beckett Shorts
By Samuel Beckett
New York Theatre Workshop
79 East 4th Street
212-239-6200

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The wobbling starts with Rough for Theatre I, a dialogue for a blind man and street musician that suggests a test run for Endgame. Baryshnikov's Slavic lilt makes an odd vocal partner for Bill Camp, unaccented but slightly orotund, and their helpless, post-disaster world is barely evoked. Eh Joe, originally written for TV, gets altogether muffled, with giant video projections of Baryshnikov's head distracting us from this magical artist's very real presence, off in a downstage corner, while in the opposite corner upstage the female voice in his head is embodied, eloquently but far too elegantly, by Karen Kandel. Even with these shortfalls, though, Beckett Shorts, like The Homecoming, gets its bleak sense across: There's no hope, and we're no comfort to each other in our hopelessness. Merry Christmas to you, too.

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