Upon entering the Parking Lot at the Clemente, the alfresco venue for Fail Better; Beckett Moves UMO, you’ll be greeted with a program and a pair of over-the-ear headphones. The headphones are not a gimmick, but rather a pragmatic solution to the production's outdoor venue, allowing the audience to still access the show’s haunting soundscape, a central feature of this new physical theater piece. Inspired by the oeuvre of Samuel Beckett, UMO Ensemble's six performers bring to life some of the central tenants of his work, both in text and in movement, on a stage that consists solely of a giant teeter-totter, two pulleys and a rope.
As the actors ruminate on issues such as regret, desire and tomorrow, they also embody the imbalance and self-hate that such issues can stir up. UMO uses only two tight paragraphs of Beckett’s own writing to frame the show; the rest of the script is provided by Lyam White and Maria Glanz, but supplies similar absurdist poignancy. And sound designer Jimmy Garver combines an eclectic array of prerecorded sounds with the live-captured pings and clangs of the actors interacting with the set. While the entire cast and crew deserves commendation for their show-must-go-on attitudes, the new location—Fail Better was originally scheduled to perform at another venue, but had to move because of technical concerns—is not without its downsides. The headphones sometimes make the dialogue sound tinny, and the lack of multilevel seating means you’ll miss some of the action if you’re not in the first row. Despite this, Fail Better stands out not only as an impressive piece of physical theater, but also as a provocative tribute.—Chris Corbo
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