By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
Cluchey excuses himself to change into costume while Bailey steps forward to explain the idea behind Eh Joe: An old man in decline, a former womanizer, hears a lover's voice in his head taunting him for the callous way he's treated the women in his life.
Cluchey re-emerges, in black tuxedo trousers and a red dressing gown, his white locks now set loose over his ears. He sits on a padded wooden chair placed strategically in front of the chapel's lily-adorned crucifix (hardly a subtle use of symbolism), balanced symmetrically with potted palms on each side. He gazes out. The audience leans forward, rapt. Silence. A crow outside caws four times. McCraw pushes a button on his tape deck. We hear a female voice, an Irish brogue, snippets of sentences:
Anyone living love you now, Joe? . . .
That slut that comes on Saturday, you pay her, don't you? . . .
Penny a hoist, tuppence as long as you like . . .
Watch yourself you don't run short Joe . . .
Weaker and weaker . . .
I was strong myself when I started . . .
In the early days . . .
When we sat watching the ducks . . .
How you admired my elocution! . . . Among other charms.
The best's to come, you said, that last time . . .
Hurrying me into my coat . . .
The best's to come . . .
You were right for once . . . In the end.
Through all this, Joe says not a word. His face reflects the merest twinges of regret, then of agony. (The play was conceived as a teleplay, with tight angles on the old man's face.) There's not even a spotlight to focus on Cluchey's subtle shifts of expression, the welling tears. This is anti-theater: No dialogue. No lights. No action. Talk about a challenge for an audience weaned on Chuck Norris and Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Yet even after 20 minutes, nobody's shifting on the benches or making wisecracks. They're still leaning forward.
In a post-performance discussion, one young man asks Cluchey what it was that made him cry. "The emotion of being with you guys," he answers. "It's a spiritual thing. We're in a house of God."
Another asks if the woman's voice is supposed to be the devil.
How is it that this static play by an Irish poet appears, astonishingly, to have struck such a chord in Juvie Hall? If the assault of images and sensations we endure daily has created a kind of attention deficit disorder, can the environment of a prison or a youth detention center, where such distractions are comparatively restricted, restore our ability to concentrate? Then, of course, there are Beckett's themes of regret and isolation. This is an audience - unlike the one in Cerritos, whose questions tended to focus on performance and stagecraft - for whom life-in-solitary isn't just a metaphor.
The San Quentin Drama Workshop productions of Eh Joe, Footfalls and Come and Go are running at the St. Ambrose Arts Center under the umbrella "Beckett's Women."