The Mud Club

Utopians: riding out a post-Beckett world
Alexis Abrams

Samuel Beckett left no descendants. The steady diminuendo of his dramaturgical style from Waiting for Godot to the seven pages that make up What Where provides little in the way of future direction for his followers. Nowhere else to go, it seems, but down into the consciousness-laden silence.

Harold Pinter, David Mamet, and Sam Shepard are the obvious rebuttals to this view--each of whom found ways of extending Beckett's stark theatrical insights into more recognizable versions of contemporary life. Todd Schrenk's Stuck in the Groove Bucket and the Flying Machine's Utopians continue to grapple in fresh ways with the legacy of the 20th century's most innovative playwright. While neither production fully satisfies, both represent highly promising theater-aesthetics-in-progress.

The three hippie characters of Groove Bucket pass the time at a secluded section of an outdoor musical festival wondering when their friend's going to return with "the weed." Covered from head to toe in mud, the trio look as though they've been hanging around since Woodstock, though the only certainty is that the girl, who desperately has to go to the bathroom but doesn't have a pair of shoes, isn't going to convince the two more philosophically minded guys that it's time to move on.


Stuck in the Groove Bucket
By Todd Schrenk
Centerstage NYC
48 West 21st Street

By the Flying Machine
The Theatorium
198 Stanton Street

Schrenk has a Shepard-esque ear for American slang. His characters' chipped and bruised vocabularies give expression to those same metaphysical woes of sore feet and tired souls that preoccupied Vladimir and Estragon on the heath. What's lacking, however, is Beckett's radical economy and coherence--lengthy exchanges of Schrenk's naturalistic dialogue persist behind their poetic necessity, and his narrative (which culminates in an incantatory description of a human sacrifice) flounders awkwardly in search of sensational meaning.

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By far the most impressive feature of the production is the commitment of its soiled actors. Schrenk, Holly Palmer, and Eddy Hougen (who also directed) portray the three stranded friends with the kind of miniaturist attention that finds Beckettian truths in the most concrete detail.

While the characters in Groove Bucket spend their lives chattering in a purple haze, those in Utopians barely say a word. As the three clownishly made-up men scramble to find shelter during a howling storm, the only sounds come from an offstage trio of musicians who, in addition to playing appropriately screeching music, ingeniously mimic the wind and rain.

The opening scenes are like short takes in a dimly lit silent film. An actor wearing a Hefty bag as a raincoat mimes riding a bicycle through the torrential gale while the other two performers lurk like shadows under garbage cans on the roadside. Though the visual and aural design is unflaggingly inventive, the narrative takes a bit of time to come into focus. Only when the three men finally stumble upon each other in a run-down hovel does the action become apparent. The characters are trying to survive the night, though, as two of them speak only gibberish, their comforting of one another will take place primarily through broad gestures.

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