06 September 2008

That One Looks Like Wales...and That One Looks Like a Short Play by Samuel Beckett

I finally figured out how to sent photos from my cell phone to my e-mail.  I think there must also be a cord so I can do this, but it's probably buried in my suitcase somewhere.  In any case, this means that I can post the photos I took on my trip to Wales:

This very large stone is supposedly a pebble that King Arthur took out of his shoe, grown to enormous size.  This was actually meant to be a picture of the houses and water just beyond, but I stood too far away.  And here is some genuine mud.  Unfortunately, I wasn't told to bring wellies, so I couldn't stride through it.  But I took its photo!


would be my favourite, if it weren't for what appears to be some sort of bloodstained rock in the lower centre.  That's actually a sheep, and I'm quite sure I meant it to be in the photo, but I was moving when I snapped it.  The sheep's been marked, so finders will know which farmer it belongs to (I know this because I saw such markings on the sheep on my then-boyfriend's farm when I went to visit.  I'd completely forgotten that until I saw this sheep, when I suddenly remembered that I remembered).

Because of the sheep, THIS is my favourite.  I regret the prominence of the side mirror, but it's marginally better than a wounded sheep:

I also quite like this one.  Something about the flatness of the ground and the great looming cloud overhead appeals to me.  

Somehow, describing these photos smacks of showing holiday snapshots to unwilling victims. Sorry about that.  It really was beautiful, though.  There's almost nothing nicer than proceeding through green countryside (or muddy countryside) with a stunning sky appearing and re-appearing around you...

This afternoon I went to a production of five short plays by Samuel Beckett.

They were:  Rough for Theatre I, Rockaby, Act Without Words II, Neither, and Come and go.  I love Beckett, I really do.  By rights, that love is very odd.  Beckett plays usually have no discernible plot; the people do aimless things (as they do when there's no plot to aim for); they often speak randomly and very fast. All of these things would usually mean that I wouldn't be interested -- not that I would dislike the stuff, but that it simply wouldn't hold my interest.  What I would like about Beckett is his grimness, but that grimness is actually a cliche, and not very accurate, so under normal circumstances I would expect myself to like the idea of Beckett, but not the works themselves.

But, no:  I love the works themselves.  I think this has to do in part with the fact that I don't really conceive of Beckett as gloomy or grim (as I just said).  He sees life as fundamentally meaningless or futile, that's true.  But the thing is, if you don't believe in an afterlife, life is fundamentally meaningless and futile:  you come in for no reason, leave at an unknown but nonetheless inescapable hour, and in between you do a bunch of stuff that fills up the time.  And that stuff is very important and meaningful to you, but ultimately it doesn't change anything, really (okay, okay, unless you're, say, Jonas Salk), and the only plot that exists is the one that's impressed by you or other people.  And I really, honestly, don't find that a depressing way to look at life.  Because that doesn't change the fact that you can fill up that time with wonderful, joyous, or illuminating experience, which will be incredibly important to you, the liver, no matter whether it's of larger importance or not.  I think that's great.

Okay, so leaving aside the grimness issue, I think what I love about Beckett is the way in which people in his plays try to make connections.  Well, I guess I'd have to say the way people try to make connections and fail.  This is not to say I find the work enjoyable; it's more as Mr. Fennyman says of Romeo and Juliet in Shakespeare in Love:  "Sad...and wonderful."  For example, Rockaby is, in this production, a woman telling the story of her own life, in metaphor, as a life in which she first wanders the streets looking for "one other, like herself."  When she doesn't find such a one, she gives up and stays in her house, a house where she keeps looking out of the windows, but only other empty windows, or windows with their blinds down, face back. So eventually she pulls down her own blind and makes her way to the basement.  And of course this is awful, tragic, but it's such a wonderful description of a terrible kind of life, and a kind of life that one might sometimes feel one has, in which one tries to make contact with others - or to find love - tries to see into them and be seen into in return, but to no avail.  And of course there are people whose lives are like that (and I certainly think that one thing Beckett is suggesting is that all our lives really are like that, and I don't know if he's right).  Then, in Act without Words II, two men come on stage and get in sacks; first one man gets out of his sack, and everything goes wrong for him, and he crawls back into his sack; then the other man gets out of his sack, and everything goes right for him, and he crawls back into his sack.  And this, too, I took to be a metaphor for the way life seems, or perhaps even is:  one man has a life of nothing but mucking it up and being thwarted, and one has a life of nothing but smoothness.

In both cases here, the analogy or metaphor through which Beckett chooses to offer his vision of life is what makes the work so affecting, and so meaningful.  

The woman who performed Rockaby, Kathryn Hunter, was just astounding.  In fact, she was wonderful in all three of the pieces she was in:  she seemed to me to be, like Billie Whitelaw, a born Beckett actress.  I was thoroughly stunned by Rockaby altogether.  I wept all through it.  Sad...and wonderful.

No comments: