Scena Theatre to present four black comedies by Samuel Beckett

With 'Beckett Shorts,' the company returns to its modernist roots of staging great works by the masters of literature and theater.

Scena Theatre returns to the DC stage for its 34th season in Washington with a presentation of four short black comedy plays by the master of the absurd, Samuel Beckett. With Beckett Shorts, Scena also returns to its modernist roots of staging great works by the masters of literature and theater. Beckett Shorts is directed by Scena’s Artistic Director Robert McNamara.

Scena reopens with Samuel Beckett after a 29-month hiatus driven by COVID-19 and the shutdown of theater in DC. Not only is Scena celebrating its modernist roots; this production helps performers and audiences reexamine life and the human condition after a two-and-a-half-year period of anxiety and fear. “Beckett’s plays are commentary on the darkness and humor within the human condition—which is often wrought with desire as well as distress,” noted Artistic Director Robert McNamara.

Samuel Beckett (1906–1989), photographed laughing in 1976.

The four plays in Beckett Shorts include Act Without Words I and II, both of which are an unspoken mime of unfulfilled desire. These two plays feature a man in a desert-like setting who sees various essential objects and tools lowered from above. Yet they seemingly have life of their own and retreat, just out of reach. Next up is Rough for Theatre Iwhich was originally a short film, and features an old blind beggar and an old crippled man in a wheelchair who form an alliance—but simply cannot get along. And, finally, Eh Joe, originally produced for television, features a paranoid and desolate man searching for answers to life throughout his apartment while hearing a haunting female voice from the past that accentuates Joe’s conflict within.

Scena has a rich tradition of producing Beckett’s plays. The company’s first foray into his absurd world was in 1990 with its highly-acclaimed Beckett “Festival of Plays,” mounted in collaboration with the internationally renowned San Quentin Drama Workshop. In 1998, Scena celebrated Beckett’s 92nd birthday at the Embassy of France with the first workshop staging of his first play, Eleutheria. In 1999, Scena produced a successful “Beckett Festival” showcasing 13 of Beckett’s most dynamic plays with encore participation from San Quentin Drama Workshop. Here, acclaimed actor Rick Cluchey was featured in Beckett’s original staging of Krapp’s Last Tape.

Further, in 2001, Scena staged an innovative production of Radio Plays at the Corcoran Gallery of Arts with a talented ensemble and live music. In 2008, the company staged a production of Beckett’s most famous work, Waiting for Godot. In 2014, Scena presented the classic Happy Days featuring Helen Hayes Award winner Nancy Robinette. Finally, in 2017, Scena staged The Beckett Trio with two-time Helen Hayes Award winner Nanna Ingvarsson.

Artistic Director McNamara once had an in-person meeting with Samuel Beckett in the PLM Hotel in Paris. He shared his admiration for the playwright and his personal love of his writings. The two exchanged stories of life at Trinity College Dublin, the alma matter of both, as well as their favorite Dublin pubs and McNamara’s film work of Beckett’s plays in Stuttgart.

Shows: Wed, June 22 – Sat, July 16, 2022 (Evenings 6:00 or 9:30 pm; plus two weekend matinees at 2:00 pm. See EventBrite for exact days/times)

Tickets: EventBrite

Prices: $28 – $35 — Adults $35 and Members: $28

Venue: DCAC, District of Columbia Arts Center | 2438 18th St. NW, Washington, DC.

COVID Safety: Scena Theatre is among the Theatre Washington partner theaters that have agreed to require mask wearing and proof of vaccination until at least July 31, 2022.

Actors: Kim Curtis, Lee Ordeman, John Healy, Buck O’Leary, Ron Litman and Stacy Whittle. U/S: Ellie Nicoll and David Johnson.

Designers: Robert McNamara (Director), Carl Gudenius (Set Designer), Marianne Meadows (Lighting Designer), Denise Rose (Sound Design), Mei Chen (Costume Designer), Cate Brewer (Assistant Director), Anne Nottage (Literary Manager), and Gabriele Jakobi (Dramaturg & Resident Director).

Samuel Beckett, Playwright (1906–1989) was an Irish avant-garde novelist, playwright, poet, and stage director who is widely deemed one of the most influential writers of the 20th Century. Born near Dublin, Ireland on Good Friday, he earned a degree at Trinity College. He taught briefly at Campbell College in Belfast and then accepted the position of lectuer d’anglais at Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris. He traveled to Germany and experienced the rising tide of fascism. Beckett once again returned to Ireland, only to have an unpleasant parting of ways with his mother. The artistic enclave of Paris’ Left Bank beckoned his return. He would remain there for the rest of his life, save for a few years working with the French Resistance during WWII. His writings offer a bleak, tragicomic outlook on human nature, often coupled with black comedy. Beckett was one of the last modernists and one of the first postmodernists—and he wrote in both French and English. He is one of the key writers in the “Theatre of the Absurd” movement. In 1969, Beckett was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for his “new forms for the novel and drama.” Later in life, his writings became more minimalist. Many 20th Century writers have publicly expressed their indebtedness to Beckett and his influence including Václav Havel, John Banville, Aidan Higgins, Tom Stoppard, Harold Pinter, and Jon Fosse.

Scena Theatre brings the best international theater to Washington, DC, and stimulates cultural exchange between theater artists, locally and worldwide. Founded in 1987 under the leadership of Artistic Director Robert McNamara and Managing Director Amy Schmidt, Scena produces an annual season of plays, seasonally staged readings, as well as a Workshop Series aimed at developing new works from around the globe.

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