Tuesday, January 24, 2017



The Odyssey Theatre’s Koan Unit brings the existential angst of Samuel Beckett to life.  That’s it.  Life in the face of the inevitable that scholars and actors and others will debate for a long time.  The essence of Theatre of the Absurd is the process,  perhaps.. or maybe, like an abstract piece of art or a conceptual piece that fails to immediately announce itself as Comedy, Tragedy, Drama, Satire?  It leaves the audience to its own devices to figure it out, if, indeed, there is something to figure out. 

Having seen spectacular performances of Waiting for Godot, Beckett’s signature piece, along with a well done Happy Days and interesting takes on Endgame and Play, it’s a treat to be exposed to Koan Unit’s take on Beckett 5.  This is all prologue to warm myself up to comment. The essential comment is that as troublesome as Samuel Beckett may be with his making the audience do the work, this dedicated company of actors comes together as an ensemble to share his work with a passion. Ron Sossi's experienced hand brings it all together.

Alan Abelew and Beth Hogan
Photo by Ron Sossi
In Act Without Words II  two large white bags are discovered on the stage.  A little ding is heard as Koan’s Norbert Weisser, all in black with a long prod pokes the bag stage left.     Alan Abelew abruptly awakens!  The bag is tossed. He prays silently “Help Me!!”  and attacks his miserable day. His ‘work’ consists of laboring to move the other bag slightly across the stage.  Back in the bag, the goad awakens Beth Hogan who blossoms to her awakening.. loves every minute of life; dresses in the same suit, does the same ‘work’ as Alan has done. Retires.  Repeat.  Whatever Beckett is telling us, the focus is laser sharp.  Is life a drudgery of work or the joy of life?

In Come and Go,
Beth Hogan, Diana Cignoni and Sheelagh Cullen
Photo by Enci Box
we meet three pastel clad ladies, Diana Cignoni, Sheelagh Cullen and Beth Hogan all seated comfortably in their fashion on a park bench.  Again, the pace and focus are slow and exacting.  Each of these biddies has a secret to share with another.  They are old friends. Cordial. Gossips. Ron Sossi’s crystal clear direction in this and each of the pieces is what choreographs the precision of the movements and the secrets that they share…  or do they?  

Catastrophe features Hogan and Abelew again tending to a stationary statue, Weisser: a mannequin.
Alan Abelew and Norbert Weisser
Photo by Enci Box
Weisser, as with each member of the Koan Unit is appropriately focused, only allowing to be adjusted by the sycophant, Abelew, under the impatient thumb of Hogan whose demands include infinitesimal adjustments.  Hogan is a demanding director. She and her nervous assistant create Art. It is uncomfortable and may be familiar to folks who may have encountered the demands of an impatient perfectionist.

Footfalls is stark and melancholy.  
Diana Cignoni Photo by Enci Box
As May, the elegant and statuesque Diana Cignoni paces before an open door in dialogue with her dying mother (Sheelagh Cullen’s off stage voice). She paces precisely nine steps from right to left and left to right again and again. The floor boards creak with each step. It’s a death watch:  obscure and still completely absorbing as Ms Cignoni’s, dedication to the work repeats and repeats itself: light fading and fading from stanza to stanza. Understanding May’s transformations here is a challenge. We hear Mother, but is she real? Seeing this work cold will not deliver the same reaction as when one takes time to read up a bit.  Beckett’s stage directions are often precise to create the pace and atmosphere that he insists on. He often repeats lines and situations.  I found myself counting May’s steps again and again as she walked her pathway: nine steps right, nine steps left.   Interestingly, the tone and physical changes with the actress’s dedication kept the piece mysterious and absorbing.

Norbert Weisser Photo by Ron Sossi
Batting cleanup in Krapp’s Last Tape, we discover a cluttered desk with drawers that lock and boxes and books and the detritus of a life recorded on magnetic tape twenty nine years earlier by Krapp (Norbert Weisser). It’s a life examined.  On his birthday, Krapp is alone with bananas and his memories, played again and again rewinding.. listening, rewinding..  we hear him lament the loss of the desire of his youth that stoked the life he was living years ago.. introspection and examination all deftly presented by Weisser, give pause to everyone whose life may cry out for examination.  The actor’s physical exhaustion reaches into the audience as we hear that he now may be ready to just “be gone.” Is this current recording the Last Tape that Krapp recorded? Or was it the last one that he has listened to from Box 3 Spoooooooooooooooooooool 5? Krapp relishes the word: spool.  

A friend has called the Beckett Experience a ‘slog.’  Indeed, one must have patience and come prepared to do some work to begin to find the way. The playwright never makes it an easy road to travel down.  Sossi and the Koan Unit (an apt name) bring this important work to life.

By Samuel Beckett
Produced by the Koan Unit
Directed by Ron Sossi
The Odyssey Theatre Ensemble
2055 South Sepulveda
Los Angeles, CA 90025
Through March 5, 2017
Tickets and Information: (310) 477 2055 Ex 2

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