Beckett in Brief, three short works by Samuel Beckett, 1969 Nobel Prize winner in Literature, is being presented by Commonwealth Shakespeare Company at Babson College through May 7. The plays, said to be Beckett’s most autobiographical works, put forth the ideas of creativity, aging, sex, friendship, and death in all Beckett’s bleak, tragicomic glory. It’s black comedy, gallows humor kind of stuff, in which emotional torments are compounded and characters reconcile themselves to hard facts.
Will Lyman, who performed on the Babson stage most recently in Our American Hamlet, and who narrates the PBS public affairs program Frontline, in the first play, Rough for Radio II, appeared on the stage only in silhouette, along with Ken Baltin and Ashley Risteen. What happened in this play? I couldn’t tell you, such was the depth of its ideas and such is the shallowness of my comprehension. I can tell you this: there was a man in authority, a hot secretary (played with sexy, typing-pool glamour by Risteen), and some guy (Baltin), maybe in a dungeon, under the table. By free associating as I took notes during the play, I came up with: power, domination, punishment, Fifty Shades of Grey (that ruler he kept banging on the table!). That’s all I’ve got.
The next play, The Old Tune, was the most accessible of the three. Two elderly men in 1950s Ireland, (Lyman as Gorman, and Cream, played with shuffling dismay and corrosive discouragement by Baltin) have perhaps been unhappy wretches forever or perhaps been made that way, exhausted by life’s tragedies. Their connections to a world they once, if not exactly ran, at least understood their place in, have steadily dissolved over the years. Gorman and Cream are left to look daggers at each passing car, their eyes glittering with malice and disgust at the “progress” the modern transportation represents.
In Krapp’s Last Tape, Lyman appears alone on the stage for its entirety, except when his red-nosed character is leaving the audience all alone while he nips behind the scenes for a nip of something or other. I might do the same were I 69 years old and listening to tapes of myself voicing my hopes and dreams when I was 39, as is Krapp in his man cave. Krapp’s Last Tape out of the three works had the most humor, as we laugh at the simian way Krapp eats a banana when he’s all alone, no one to impress, no need to mind his manners. Sure, he can drop the peel right on the floor instead of in the bin, if he’s of such a mind. And with apologies to Chekhov, if a banana peel is dropped in Act 1, someone will surely slip on it in Act 2.
In higher-education circles, Babson College is known for its focus on entrepreneurship. The school prides itself on turning out students who bring creative vision and entrepreneurial thought into the global marketplace, go-getter business types who want to make their first million by yesterday and are trained to chart progress and demand results. Supporters say they’re driven and hard-working. Critics call them culturally vacant.
With BabsonArts on the job bringing exhibitions, films, theater productions, and more to the campus, there’s now ammunition for students who care to involve themselves in the culture wars. And should they care to get right into the trenches, there are plenty of opportunities for them to experience the theater of battle right there in Sorenson Center for the Arts. Or they could just go and enjoy a night out at a play or a concert without the bother of leaving campus. That would be fun, too.
Presented by Commonwealth Shakespeare Company, in residence at Babson College. At Sorenson Center for the Arts, Babson College, Wellesley, through Sunday, May 7. General admission tickets $40, 866-811-4111, www.commshakes.org