By Karen Isaacs
In 2018, I was blessed to sit in the audience at the Irish Rep and see Bill Irwin’s creation On Beckett. At the time, in my review I called it a masterclass in acting. It was magnificent. Other critics and audiences thought so too; the run sold out and Irwin received awards for his work.
In the year of the pandemic, Beckett’s writings are even more relevant. After all, he often seemed to have a nihilistic view of the world. Several of his works explore both the need for human connection and isolation. His play Endgame could be set in a post-apocalyptic world.
Irwin has adapted his original work to reflect the current situation. On Beckett/ In Screen was filmed on the Irish Rep stage and anyone who loves theater and fine acting should hope that it will be available again.
Opening the show, Irwin is modest. He says he is no expert on Beckett, nor has he read all of Beckett’s works. Instead this is “an actor’s relationship with words” which he says “brings a deep kind of knowledge.”
He is mistaken; he may not be a Beckett biographer or Beckett scholar, but in the process of creating characters and interpreting the words, he is, in fact, a Beckett expert.
During the 80 minute, one man show Irwin focuses primarily on Waiting for Godot, which he played many times in different roles and Beckett’s Texts for Nothing, short writings that were published in 1950. In the three that enacts (numbers 1, 9, 11), he brings the text to life and creates a character that you will identify with and be interested in.
He brings not only an actor’s sensibility and instinctive knowledge, but he draws on the clown traditions. After all, Waiting Godot has often been performed by classic clown actors – Robin Williams, Bert Lahr and Bill Irwin.
Beckett is a Nobel Prize recipient and part of the pantheon of Irish writers. But many find his works difficult. That hasn’t stopped his plays, particularly Waiting for Godot and Endgame from become classics of modern theater.
On Beckett is one of the finest performances I’ve seen in many years. I hope it will be available again, for those who missed it.