Theater archives

Beckett’s Odd Comedy is on Display in All That Fall


Samuel Beckett: comic genius? Sure. Beckett’s plays are all but bereft of love, hope, succor. They are also very funny. Think of Didi and Gogo’s badinage, Winnie’s nattering, Krapp’s bananas. Beckett’s odd comedy is perhaps most blatant in All That Fall, a radio play now revived at 59E59 under the direction of Trevor Nunn.

The play can be seen as Beckett’s attempt to crowd in as many sound effects as possible — country road, cart horse, bicycle bell, several chickens. More particularly, it is the story of the walk Mrs. Rooney (Eileen Atkins) takes to fetch her blind husband (Michael Gambon) back from the train station. Here, the pessimism is so absolute and unrelieved that it becomes contrarily blithe. Witness Mrs. Rooney’s self-description: “a hysterical old hag I know, destroyed with sorrow and pining and gentility and churchgoing and fat and rheumatism and childlessness.”

Nunn’s production, which apes its radio origins with plentiful microphones, clutched scripts, and no set to speak of, adopts a doleful pace. He allows the actors to make a meal of each line — no appetizer, no dessert, just morose main courses. And yet, the cruel comedy remains. In a world this sore and hard, what else can you do but laugh?