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
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.
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.
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.