The audience, placed upon the stage with the actors, files in by headcount a few at a time. Seating is limited, placed on risers, and in the formation of a triangle the color of yellow school signs but practically neon when surrounded by the black of the stage floor and curtain enclosure. Hushed whispers float through the audience as to just how close we will be to the actors. Is this play to be interactive? Will the actors pull audience members from their seats, not that we would have far to go as the tips of your toes touch the outline of the triangle in the center. The intimate setting begins to take on an air of spooky.The plays are short, the entire production consisting of six short plays: What Where, Come & Go, Catastrophe, Not I, Act Without Words, and Play. Bizarre as the plays are, the theme is obvious as it focuses on the human condition and Beckett’s obviously pessimistic view on the subject. There is humor, though it too is stark and twisted and puts a spotlight on human tendencies while the writing focuses a magnifying glass on them making those tendencies over exaggerated and eccentric.
In What Where, the characters Bam, Bim, Bom, and Bem, appear to be identical, droid-like beings, with the exception of Bam having an omnipresent voice which is presumably Bam’s inner voice only as none of the other character appear to hear The Voice. The fact that the voice sounds as if head level with Bam himself also lends to the feeling that The Voice is inside his head.
The Voice sets the tone as He is the first thing we hear, telling us of the passage of time and informing us that in His world there are only five of them. Combined with the dark of the stage and the enclosure of the curtains, the audience is drawn into a feeling of suspended animation; of knowing that we are here but questioning in just what capacity, so that we feel more like what we view is an out of body experience.
There is no pre-story, no more given information to let us know that state of things, and instead we are thrust in on Bam asking Bom of the success of the interrogation. What interrogation, its purpose, and who is being interrogated is never revealed. Bom’s answer is not suiting to Bam, even though he gave him “the works” until he wept, screamed, begged for mercy, and finally “passed out,” Bom is still unable to make the subject “say it.” What “it” is we do not know, but it quickly becomes apparent that perhaps even the subjects involved do not know what it is they are supposed to confess to. Bam then orders Bim to give Bom the same treatment until he confesses as he accuses Bom of lying to him. And so the cycle continues with each season passing and each interrogation of the previous interrogator brings back the same report of failure until Bam is finally the only one left to do the interrogation himself. The question in each interrogation gets a little more specific each time, but still reveals nothing and in fact the characters themselves admit to not fully knowing what must be confessed. In the end, Bam returns equally defeated and with a satisfied tone we are given the final words by The Voice which says “Make sense what may.”
The immediate sense of absolute confusion, being perpetually lost, and just outright baffled sits with you as the audience sits in total dark while the next act is being set up. There are no “Ah Hah!” moments, and while musings flit through your head in an attempt to grasp—perhaps Beckett speaks of senseless violence, or perhaps he speaks of the human tendency to seek something they do not know they want but act with all means possible to attain, who the hell knows!—the next play begins and the brain is sent to focus on the next play wondering if it will be equally as baffling and hoping that there will be some slip of a hint that assuredly had to be in the first one, just missed, though this time all attention will be on all detail and you will get it, by Jove!
Each one act play from thence forth is equally as baffling, equally as thought provoking, and equally as twisted in its borderline sadistic humor. No amount of research could help to further understand the plays as Samuel Beckett himself couldn’t answer the questions behind the meanings of his plays. The plays set about a specific purpose and that was to force the audience to be confronted with the human condition, to be forced to be up close and personal with no escape and no way to feign complete ignorance when such tendencies were exaggerated beyond deniability. And while we may leave pondering what exactly Samuel Beckett meant in each one act, we are none the less left pondering, thinking, on the absurdity’s he presents us in these plays.
Above is a clip from “A Night of Samuel Beckett” performed by the students at Gulf Coast Community College. The students put on a fabulous performance well worth sitting through the insane ramblings of Samuel Beckett.