Monday, September 23, 2019

BILL IRWIN ON BECKETT at the Kirk Douglas

Bill Irwin Photo by Craig Schwartz
Full disclosure!  I so loved this show that I started a review in an email to my friend who accompanied me to see this show.  Then.. I came here to get into the routine of writing the actual review.   I was well into this review when I remembered the first rave in the email.  So.. rather than edit and edit.. I'm going to leave both reviews that are somewhat similar and recommend that if you are not familiar with Beckett, that you find Waiting for Godot on line and just scan it for a taste of what the language is like.  It can be daunting.  That said.  Go and be informed, educated and entertained by this humble genius. 

Bill Irwin's "The Regard of Flight" at the Taper, Too, many years ago ... in a way... changed my life.  His highly creative take on theatre introduced me to the type of work that has most intrigued me ever since.  

The serendipity of where we are at any particular time in our lives factors into the work of Samuel Beckett.  Irwin's scholarly and approachable style is unique in that for the season ticket holder coming along to see the production with little or no information about Beckett, they may be tutored fast and furious...  and funny! to crack the shell. The good stuff will be inside.  Irwin takes us well inside with anecdotes and recitations and the meat and potatoes and just desserts that Sam Beckett has left for us to ponder. 

With preternatural skill, abundant training and the complete joy of meta referential text, Irwin brings Beckett to life in ways that call for further exploration and at once are thoroughly satisfying and very, very funny.  

In 1984, Irwin received a MacArthur Grant.  One report tells that he thought it was a prank call.  In the thirty-five years since that honor, Mr. Irwin has shown a panoply of skills.. from turns in "Waiting for Godot"  to an about face with Kathleen Turner in  Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, not to mention a revelatory turn on the 1990 television show, "Northern Exposure."  The maturity of his Beckett exploration is undeniable.

Mr. Beckett is a heady guy.  That "Waiting for Godot" has endured after the play's being severely panned at it's 1953 unveiling (a play where nothing happens.. twice!), is now held up to theatre students of all stripes as a height of theatrical exploration. Experiencing Irwin's take on the playwright is a fundamental revelation in and of itself.  
Ranging from the obscure "The Numbered Texts"  to lessons on physicality and the body silhouette including style with baggy pants and hats, Irwin "On Beckett" will challenge the neophyte and delight the aficionado, give pause to the scholar and garner knowing nods from the fans who think they 'really understand.' 


To say that Bill Irwin in "Bill Irwin On Beckett" is pretty good  is like saying Najinsky was adequate or that Muhammad Ali was a middling athlete.  The superlatives have all been used up.. and finding a way to describe what an appreciative second night audience enjoyed.. enthrall with not only the scholarship of the actor, clown, mime, MacArthur fellow and someone who seems genuinely humble even while levitating .. literally...  and then returning to earth!  to find a really good compliment is just silly. 

For Beckett Scholars, there are inside stories. Imagining Robin Williams literally flying through the air to subdue Lucky,  Irwin's character in the 1988 production of Waiting for Godot directed by Mike Nichols with F. Murray Abraham, Steve Martin and Robin Williams is priceless. (Irwin now always pronounces it "GOD.. oh" ).

Self referential in a good way.. Irwin charms the audience and, as an old mime pal of mine has said, this show is a "Master Class on Beckett."  The depth of philosophy that scholars may debate is up for grabs.. the text of Irwin's show is fraught with references that go well beyond the superficial stuff that most of us may have seen on stage, read or heard about. 
Not having heard of the 'Texts'  Irwin recites more of Beckett's depth and oddball humor.  He relates that a possible influence for Godot may have been Beckett settling in France in 1937. Then,  during WWII, he joined the French Resistance.. Godot was written in French:  now translated back in to English and depending on the production, may have an English tone or an Irish brogue .. but always each character shall wear a bowler hat!
Irwin does hats well.. His primer on the role of the bodily silhouette immediately shows how not only the text, the subtext and the other studious approaches to character are important, but that the profile: the physical attitude is vital.. as is the hat!  Genius is too tame a term to land in Bill Irwins's court.What comes next? We'll have to wait and see. This one is transcendent.

Bill Irwin "On Beckett"
Conceived and performed by Bill Irwin
Kirk Douglas Theatre
9820 Washington Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232
Runs through October 27, 2019
Tickets and information:
(213) 972-7376.

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