Fail Better; Beckett Moves UMO

by Mitchell Conway · August 28, 2015

“I hope this preamble will soon come to an end…” begins the section from Samuel Beckett’s The Unnamable that begins the Umo Ensemble’s Fail Better: Beckett Moves UMO. Other sections of text are written in a Beckett-influenced-style by cast members Maria Glanz and Lyam White.

It seems the characters are trapped in the stage space, without knowing why or where they came from. They are reminiscent of characters from Beckett’s plays. James Bigsby Garver, who offers the preamble, sits outside the stage space and runs the sound from a computer, and occasionally involves himself in the onstage action; he taps his pencil on the computer, scattering papers, etc. Each audience member receives headphones through which the sound design is transmitted, along with the onstage dialogue picked up on microphones.

The set design by Jon Schroeder features a teeter-totter, a thick red circular rope looped through two pulleys, and a large metal frame. The background is the side of a city building: bricks and windows. It felt almost epic, and was certainly aesthetically pleasing. The pulley system enables the rope to be continuously pulled. When Terry Crane is doing aerial performance, it includes a continuous fall, turning over as the rope circled round, maintaining his same position in the air; that moment of total falling stuck with me for a while after I left the theatre.

The ever-adjusting balance of the teeter-totter is a dynamic through much of the show’s action. Janet McAlpin drags Lyam White by the heels along it; everyone keeps being thrown off balance and tries to get things stable again. White attempts to off himself by going under the teeter-totter as it crashes down to one side; the metal falls just short of his head.

Crane and David Godsey are two tramp-looking friends. At a certain point Godsey finds his way (romantically) to McAlpin. Crane is left alone, and wanders around outside the otherwise established playing space, including making a daring climb up the side of the metal frame and directly interacting with Garver running sound. The other four do a sort of flirtation/intercourse dance that was quite amusing.

Most things that began energetically dissolved quickly. Moments come and pass. The physicality Elizabeth Klob has brought to the stage punctuates stasis and exasperated expressions of confusion bordering on despair. Physically, there is a lot of dependence, perhaps unwilling. When someone pulls down one section of rope, he pulls up another holding it: they go back and forth, elevating then returning down again.

Whether it's melancholy or ennui, or whatever unnamable sensation, Beckett’s words bring me to it. “Perhaps they have carried me to the threshold of my story, before the door that opens on my story. (That would surprise me, if it opens) It will be I?”





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