"That's the story!" repeated with droll unctuousness becomes a motif in actor Barry McGovern's solo performance of stories by Samuel Beckett, presented by the Gate Theatre of Dublin at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. The texts — "Molloy," "Malone Dies" and "The Unnamable" — were selected by McGovern and Gerry Dukes, and the show was directed by Colm O'Briain.
McGovern opens the show in a prelude, as a tatty emcee in a spotlight in front of a curtain. In a winking tone, a rumbling yet playful voice, he goads us that we won't leave "because you're afraid it might be worse elsewhere." He means it self-deprecatingly. No need. This performance is as fine as any performance can be.
McGovern has a leathery face, clipped gray hair and a spitfire cadence, which he delivers so trippingly, so effortlessly, that the actual themes of life ending that cascade down this stream of verbiage (90 minutes, with intermission) emerge almost whimsically throughout most of the show. The first two-thirds of the performance is akin to a stand-up comedy routine, yet McGovern won't squeeze Beckett's world-weary humor as though through a clogged toothpaste tube. Rather, he allows the humor to roll out of its accord and discord. (McGovern has been performing this show since 1985, and it shows.)
In "Molloy," amiably told in the first person, a man on a crutch, Molloy, goes to visit his mother, and gets arrested for napping on his bicycle. Upon his eventual release from the police station, back on his bicycle, Molloy accidentally runs over and kills a small, leashed dog. The dog's owner, however, is grateful, as she was taking her already dying dog to the vet, to have it put down. Molloy narrates all this with good cheer.
Near the end of the performance, Robert Ballagh's walled set transforms into a mausoleum, where another character, Malone, dressed in a night shirt, lies on a slab pondering aloud and in an Irish brogue his own imminent demise, neither jocular nor morose but wistfully matter-of-fact. "I could die today if I wished, merely by making a little effort."
The burst of ensuing audience laughter stems from the truth that McGovern, in uttering the line, is making almost no effort at all.
The comparatively intense show-closing excerpt from "The Unnamable" finds McGovern shirtless and cadaverlike, sitting facing the audience, rolling through an exegesis that mocks romantic storytelling. In it, he ridicules the kind of Martin Guerre–like fiction: lovers separated by war and death, the presumed dead soldier returning — "all that emotion" McGovern's character snaps — "that's the story," he mocks. As though storytelling itself is less a window onto our souls than a petty diversion from them. The truth arrives when all the words just stop.
The story in Dawn King's Foxfinder — being presented by Furious Theater Company at the Pasadena Playhouse's Carrie Hamilton Theatre — attempts to offer a window onto the soul of our body politic. It's a futuristic fable set in the countryside, somewhere in the north of England, that's a bit like a blend of Tartuffe and The Crucible.
A government inspector (Joshua Weinstein) — a man-child, really — visits a grief-stricken farmer and his wife (Shawn Lee and Sarah Hennessy) whose crops are below the government quota. They live in a nation with a food crisis, and no policy protecting anybody's privacy.
The inspector, orphaned at age 5, and a little too devoted to the Motherland, has the power to seize their farm. He will show lenience, however, if they can prove they're not collaborating with some sly foxes that have been destroying farms and polluting farmers' dreams. The problem is that nobody has actually seen these weapons of mass destruction. Stories are not just benign diversions.
A neighbor (Amanda Soden) tries to warn the captive farmers that something Orwellian is going on.
Under Dámaso Rodriguez's direction, when the inspector arrives, cinematically rain-drenched, the farmer and his wife are already so freaked out that there's no room for the kind of growing danger that would allow suspense and mystery to flower. These very good actors can do little more than indicate an evening's worth of their vexation and suspicion through monochromatic furrowed brows, terse silences punctuated by bursts of shouting.
Velvet Pile is a two-woman comedy team (Amanda Barnes and Alexis Notabartolo) appearing at Son of Semele as part of that theater's Company Creation Festival. Their piece is called A Word From Our Sponsors, and it's filled with some lovely absurdist and witty repartee that focuses on how commercials (for products and politics) drive them crazy. This may be obvious, but it's quick-witted (under Matt Craig's direction) though sometimes clumsily executed. With some polish, the show could take flight. Despite their unwitting pratfalls, these women have a sophisticated and infectious sense of humor.
I'LL GO ON | Performed by Barry McGovern from texts by Samuel Beckett, excerpted by McGovern and Gerry Dukes | Presented by the Gate Theatre of Dublin at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City | Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; through Feb. 9 | (213) 972-7231 | centertheatregroup.org
FOXFINDER | By Dawn King | Presented by Furious Theatre Company at the Pasadena Playhouse, Carrie Hamilton Theatre, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena | Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m. Sun., 2:30 & 7:30 p.m.; through Feb. 2 | (626) 356-7529 | furioustheatre.org
COMPANY CREATION FESTIVAL | Son of Semele Ensemble, 3301 Beverly Blvd., Westlake | Jan. 22-24, Feb. 19-21, Feb. 8, 8 p.m.; Feb. 9, 5 p.m. | sonofsemele.org