Embers: In brief
Peter Pan Theatre Company's Gavin Quinn directs an early radio work by Samuel Beckett in this Next Wave Festival offering. Andrew Bennett plays a tormented man on a beach, and Áine Ní Mhuirí is his late wife; the play is staged inside a giant skull designed by Andrew Clancy.
Embers: Theater review by Helen Shaw
It's difficult to describe quite what it's like to watch Embers. The Irish theater company Pan Pan has taken Samuel Beckett's 1959 radio play and turned it into something part–sound installation, part-performance: a purified listening experience. In that, it's simple. But any honest description has to admit that the experience also consists of the viewer's mind thrown back on itself—and that yours will wander even in the show's short span. The piece makes the speed of thought itself sensible: not the quick, sparky impulse that makes you let go of a hot thing, but the slow, dawning pace of realization. You're sunk down to the bottom of the sea, light changing, disembodied monologues booming. By the end, there have been enough voices in your head it isn't entirely clear which ones came from the stage.
Let it be admitted that Pan Pan is not afraid of an on-the-nose metaphor. The stage is a field of grey stones, and center sits a gigantic, 12-foot-high skull. Two marvelous actors speak the text while hidden within the structure, a sculpture by Andrew Clancy, although they're invisible to us for long periods. Eventually, they'll appear sitting in its cavernous eye sockets, glowing like thoughts. (Lighting designer Aedín Cosgrove is, basically, a co-sculptor.) The air around the head is full of strands, long chains of disc-speakers and wires that seem like a frightening, robotic kelp. Sound designer Jimmy Eadie has them saturate us in noise: there's a dim feeling that we can almost see sound.
Embers is a Beckettian slow-burn duologue, a delving down into one man's regrets and memories—Krapp without a tape recorder, Eh Joe in a less accusatory key. Henry (Andrew Bennett) seems to be sitting on a beach (we hear waves, constantly, throughout), thinking about his dead father, his vanished wife, his hated daughter and his own, never-finished book. Henry's voice echoes, wondering whether his father has started haunting him. “No, simply back from the dead, to be with me, in this strange place,” he decides. His wife (Áine Ní Mhuirí) will be there too to encourage him not to catch cold, but the production hints (inasmuch as a giant skull can be a hint) that Henry is now past such trivial concerns. I admit, I won't miss Henry—his melancholy can be tiresome. You might find yourself jealous, though. That pristine, submarine place seemed like a lovely place to spend eternity.—Theater review by Helen Shaw