Gare St. Lazare Players Ireland, The Beckett Trilogy: Molloy, Malone Dies & The Unnameable
Gare St. Lazare Players Ireland, First Love
Posted By: Julie Hammond
In the last section of Conor Lovett’s remarkable performance of The Beckett Trilogy, I thought of their countryman, the great W.B. Yeats, and the second stanza of his poem Lapis Lazuli.
All perform their tragic play,
There struts Hamlet, there is Lear,
That’s Ophelia, that Cordelia;
Yet they, should the last scene be there
The great stage curtain about to drop,
If worthy their prominent part in the play,
Do not break up their lines to weep.
They know that Hamlet and Lear are gay;
Gaiety transfiguring all that dread.
All men have aimed at, found and lost;
Black out; Heaven blazing into the head:
Tragedy wrought to its uttermost.
Though Hamlet rambles and Lear rages,
And all the drop scenes drop at once
Upon a hundred thousand stage,
It cannot grow by and inch or an ounce.

Lovett turns upstage to examine his shadow projected huge on the wall behind him, the bright low footlights creating a narrow swath of lit stage. This is the first moment, near the end of a three hour marathon of words and images, when the actor, examines himself. It is a healthy dose of mortality and I realized that the death he the Unnameable (who is also of course Molloy and Malone and Beckett and Lovett) was contemplating, is not only the death of all of us, but the death we experience at the end of each performance. This death, though tragic, is tempered by the knowledge that somewhere in the world, on some other stage, the player will rise again.
Yet, what is this man, these three men, this interpreter of another man’s words doing on stage? Lovett the actor is so likeable, and yet the men he plays, Molloy in particular, is no one you would want over for tea. I couldn’t help but think that Molloy — one eyed, toothless, farting merely “once every four minutes, hardly at all” — had no place on stage talking to hundreds of hushed people. Not that he shouldn’t talk, but I couldn’t understand what would compel him to speak. “The mistake one makes is to speak to people,” speaks the man of First Love.
The words of Beckett come at us like a river, we rise up on the humor, lose ourselves in the mystic, the bawdy, squirm at the unpleasant and uncomfortable, and question, as the speaker does himself, where are we going? We lose the thread and find it again, but why did we pick it up in the first place. The first two sections of the Beckett Trilogy present Molloy on his epic failure to reach his mother’s house and Malone inventing the story that will ease him to his death. The final section, The Unnameable, is a meditation on words and living, which is to say, words and dying: who we are and who those other men, Molloy and Malone are (or were). In the first two sections the stage is a wash of gentle light and Lovett slips easily and energetically in the characters. With an inhale to puff his chest and broad stroke to indicate girth he draws forth the police Constable, a stooped back and vocal tremble illustrate the charming tedium of Louse, and an ear grating song describe Mrs Petal better than any text or any old woman.
In the final section the lighting shifts and the masks of others slipped away: for the first time I truly felt the presence of the actor on stage, the knowledge and acknowledgment of the audience before him. Suddenly the show was about performance in a way as subtle and as self-conscious as the best pieces (Jérôme Bel’s Pichet Klunchun and Myself, TBA:08, ranks right up there at the top). In a segment where the Unnameable is making all the sounds of life and living, an audience member gave an especially loud whoop of agreement; Lovett looked up sharply to engage in this moment. The energy in the theater was palpable, somehow in the wash of words in the prior 150 minutes had we forgotten that this was a live performance? Lovett steps out of the sharp beam of light as though he is examining himself, asking if he should return to this odd task of performing, return indeed to the odd task of living. He pokes his face into the light, retreats, steps back in, and continues.
There is much satisfaction in these words and stories of Beckett, and the voice given to them by the Gare St Lazare Players Ireland is honest and exhilarating. A few days after seeing First Love I pull out my copy of The Complete Short Prose, open to First Love, and dive into the opening sentences: “I associate, rightly or wrongly, my marriage with the death of my father, in time. That other links exist, on other levels, between these two affairs, is not impossible. I have enough trouble as it is in trying to say what I think I know.” No longer can I breeze through these words. Lovett, has permanently made each comma into a hanging moment, a chance to change direction or lose it or find it again. I hear his voice under my finger as I move my hand across the page. At this moment I wonder if I agree with Yeats after all, perhaps the Gare St. Lazare Players Ireland have increased Beckett by and inch and an ounce.