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Canadian Stage disappoints with Beckett rerun All But Gone

Paul Fauteux and Jonathan Young in All But Gone.

Faisal Lutchmedial

2 out of 4 stars

Title
All But Gone: A Beckett Rhapsody
Written by
Samuel Beckett
Genre
Musical
Directed by
Jennifer Tarver
Music
Garrett Sholdice and Kaija Saariaho
Company
Necessary Angel
Venue
Canadian Stage
City
Toronto
Year
2016
Runs Until
Sunday, November 06, 2016

While television networks are bringing out the new shows and fresh seasons of old hits, Canadian Stage is counter-programming by trotting out the reruns this fall.

All But Gone: A Beckett Rhapsody, a Necessary Angel production directed by Jennifer Tarver with musical direction by Dairine Ni Mheadhra, is being marketed in the now-customary breathless language of Canadian Stage's website as a "groundbreaking new work" that follows in the footsteps of a show created by the same pair that Canadian Stage also presented as part of its season four years ago called Beckett: Feck It! Like that evening at the theatre, this one pairs four of Samuel Beckett's short plays with contemporary compositions and features actors and opera singers intermingling on stage.

So, this ground has definitely been broken, folks. But Beckett: Feck It! was enjoyable enough that I, for one, was ready for more for shorts and songs in a similar vein.

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What was a disappointment then, walking in on opening night and purusing through the program, to discover that not only is ground not being broken, but it's been retrod. Three of the four plays that Tarver directed in Beckett: Feck It! back in 2012 are also in All But Gone: Play, Act Without Words II and Ohio Impromptu.

After his longer works such asEndgame and Happy Days, Beckett penned a couple dozen shorter works that distilled his writing and imagery down further and further – and there are plenty of these that are still on my Beckett list that I have not seen on a stage in Toronto yet.

Now, there's nothing wrong with Tarver revisiting and digging deeper into plays that she adores, of course. And it makes a certain sense for her to introduce her work on Beckett (she's also directed Waiting for Godot and Krapp's Last Tape at the Stratford Festival) to the audience of Necessary Angel, which she took over in 2013.

I can understand Tarver's desire for a new title, too. Heck, I suggested the old one was unfortunate in my review at the time.

What I don't understand is Canadian Stage choosing to co-produce this again and not making it clear to prospective theatregoers that this is an evolution of a show previously programmed.

On the Canadian Stage website, it is written that All But Gone "follows the sold-out hit Beckett: Feck It" – but that makes it sound like a sequel, not a "re-visioning" as Tarver writes in the program.

I'm sure I'm not the only person who's going to walk in and think: This again? Sorry, but that's taking Beckettian bleakness a bit far. On Canadian Stage's part, it certainly seems like they're misleading subscribers.

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So, what is "new" here? Act Without Words I now opens the show. It's one of Beckett's mimes, where a poor fellow (Paul Fauteux) is tortured by an unseen force who provides him with a scissors, rope and series of boxes to access a bottle of water – and then yanks it away whenever he gets close. (Who is this unseen force? God? The stage manager? Nestle?)

The unnamed character played by Fauteux next wanders into Act Without Words II – another mime that features two men lying in sacks, prodded out, one after the other, by a long pole rolled in from the wings. Each man goes through an abbreviated daily routine – dressing, brushing teeth, undressing – before again hitting the sack. Fauteux does everything reluctantly; Jonathon Young, the other actor, does the same with enthusiasm.

Twelve minutes long, it's like getting Godot to-go – but Tarver staged it better in the Berkeley Street Theatre last time, back and up on a platform where you could actually see the sacks and the pole without a person's head in the way.

Fauteux then gets his turn to play an unseen torturer – shining a spotlight on the three characters in Play, Beckett's masterpiece about a husband, his wife and his mistress compelled to relive their affair over and over from a mysterious void. (Young is excellent as the man in the middle.)

Then, to end the show, Fauteux and Young play the listener and reader in Ohio Impromptu – a playlet you can Google my old review of to know more about.

Beckett: Feck It! had a simple, intuitive idea behind it – it paired these Beckett shorts with new work by Irish composers.

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Here, it's less clear why Shannon Mercer and Krisztina Szabo sing Viderunt Omnes by Irish composer Garrett Sholdice, but also From the the Grammar of Dreams by Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho. (Though the latter is a treat for those of us who became fans of Saariaho when the Canadian Opera Company presented L'Amour de loin.)

This time, the music gets short shrift compared to Beckett. Tarver's idea to link these four shorts is intriguing, but at a certain point Fauteux wandering around, marvelling at the audience, the opera singers, the curtains actually diminishes the proceedings.

It's odd enough that Canadian Stage artistic director Matthew Jocelyn would program Beckett shorts three times over five years at a company ostensibly devoted to contemporary theatre and bold directorial takes (last fall, he also brought the Irish actress Lisa Dwan's Beckett Trilogy in), but to return to the same ones?

All But Gone: A Beckett Rhapsody runs through Nov. 6 (canadianstage.com)

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About the Author
Theatre critic

J. Kelly Nestruck is The Globe's theatre critic. More

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