Thursday, December 25, 2014

Watt

Written over five years, between 1941 and 1945, while Beckett--as a result of his involvement in the French Resistance--hid from the Gestapo in Rousillon, Watt was rejected by publishers until 1953.

Watt

Watt

Playing at: Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, 3680 Walnut St., Through Sat., Nov. 12. Tickets: $48 to $52. Information: 215-898-3900 or www.AnnenbergCenter.org

You’ve got to hand it to Dublin’s Gate Theatre, and much-admired Beckett interpreter Barry McGovern. By running Samuel Beckett’s Endgame in repertory with McGovern’s cut-and-pasted version of Beckett’s wartime novel Watt, they give audiences an hourlong amuse bouche alongside the main course, and a mostly painless introduction to one of Beckett’s least welcoming, and subsequently less visited, works.

Written over five years, between 1941 and 1945, while Beckett--as a result of his involvement in the French Resistance--hid from the Gestapo in Rousillon, Watt was rejected by publishers until 1953. And you know, you can hardly blame them. Watt is “about” a butler who happens upon the home of one Mr. Knott, becomes a butler of sorts, has a nervous breakdown and leaves. But of course, that’s just the start.

On the one hand, the book is rife with mathematical extrapolations, extended Joycean dialogue (Sample: “Just as you ousted me, and Erskine Walter, and I Vincent, and Walter that other whose name I forget, and Vincent that other whose name I also forget, and that other whose name I forget that other whose name I never knew...” And so on, for most of a page), a convoluted narrative, and pages of “Addenda” that Beckett explains by noting, “Only fatigue and disgust prevented its incorporation.” On the other hand, it’s wickedly funny, and no disappointment to fans of his scatological leanings. But man, the reader sure earns every one of those laughs.

So, it’s not the worst idea to distill the novel to its essence, keep in enough digression to get Beckett’s point across, and rearrange the action--such as it is--to occur in sequence. The problem is that just as Watt doesn’t work as lively reading, neither does it work as lively theater. Much as the literary Watt has its charms, so does the staged version. However, those charms are probably best suited to Beckett enthusiasts or English majors, lest they frighten off rank-and-file members of the theatergoing public.

Endgame, Waiting for Godot, even the short story First Love, which Ireland’s Gare St. Lazare Players adapted and brought to this year’s Live Arts Festival, all have goals, even if that goal is merely to show the pointlessness of having a goal. But Watt is an exercise in form, and this solo performance, even with McGovern’s sharp instincts and compelling storyteller’s mien, or Tom Creed’s efforts at direction--the bewildered Watt is, at one point, represented by McGovern’s formal morning coat thrown over the back of a chair--can only do so much to make it resemble theater.

 

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