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Rough for Theater

February 19, 2009 at 10:53 am
By Collin Hazlett '12

Maybe you've heard of the play Waiting for Godot, by Samuel Beckett.  It chiefly involves some characters sitting around and waiting for a man named Godot to show up.  Why they are waiting for him is not entirely clear, but one thing that is clear is that Godot never shows up.  In normal theater, this would not be okay, but this is not normal theater- it is absurdist theater, and so anything goes.

Carleton's Experimental Theater Board recently put on a Samuel Beckett production: not Waiting for Godot, but Rough for Theater, a collection of three one-act plays which are meant to be performed together.

The Experimental Theater Board used a sparsely decorated Little Nourse Theater as their stage, which was suitably bleak and dark.  The play opened with a projector screen displaying old-fashioned script in the style of a silent film, telling the audience to silence their cell phones, where the exits are, etc.  Then the projector went dark and a spotlight illuminated a dejected-looking man, who slowly removed his hat.

The first play, Rough for Theater I, then began.  It was a dialogue between two old men, (played expertly by two young women, Audrey Carlsen and Rachel Linder) .  One of the two was blind and playing a broken violin, and the other was in a wheelchair, propelling himself not with the wheels but with a stick.  They were initially friendly to each other, and came to realize that if they became friends they could support each other.  All was going relatively smoothly until the wheelchair-bound man tricked the blind man into standing up and leaving his violin on the seat, and attacked him and threatened to break his violin.  The blind man retaliated by taking the other man's stick and hitting him with it.  Then the play ended.  This was rather depressing.

In between the first play and the second play, the man in the hat came back and stage and loudly rearranged the props, knocking over the chairs and shoving the tables around.

The second play, Breath, started with the sound of a baby crying.  Then the lights came on as a loud inhaling sound was played.  Then the lights went off as a loud exhaling sound was played.  Then the sound of the baby crying came again, and the play was over.

In between the second and third plays, the man with the hat came back on, righted the knocked-over furniture, and then opened a large prop window at the back of the stage and looked out.  He then froze, and continued looking out the window for the remainder of the final play, Rough for Theater II.

Two businessmen (played again by Audrey Carlsen and Rachel Linder) entered the scene and opened briefcases, and began to diligently sort through briefcases full of files.  It became apparent that the files actually described the frozen man's life- there were folders for his interests and hopes, the problems he faced, lists of the things he did each day, impressions other people had of him, etc.  They appeared to be trying to judge, based on their files, whether he should jump out the window to his death or not.  Certain files were enigmatically difficult to read, because the lamp illuminating them would go dark when the businessmen attempted to read them.  This caused one of them to remark, "Mysterious thing... electricity."

At one point, a chirping sound from offstage turned out to be a dying bird trapped in a birdcage- the two metaphysical businessmen forgot about the man at the window for a moment and tried to think of a way to help the bird, but came up with no solutions- just as they ultimately come up with no solutions for the situation of the man at the window.

The plays didn't consist entirely of depressing parts- there were many unexpected and/or funny bits, such as when the two old men fervently discuss their love of baked beans, or when one of the businessmen quickly inserts a really nasty swear word into a list of random words and then keeps talking as though nothing had happened. The entire second act was very funny, in the same way that Potter Puppet Pals' Awakening of the Incorruptible is very funny.

Overall, though, the plays conveyed a general feeling of dark uneasiness- which is of course what Samuel Beckett was going for, being the moody existentialist he is.

Dark uneasiness mixed with occasioned sprinkles of unexpected humor is a difficult mood for two actors to maintain over the course of an hour, but Audrey Carlsen and Rachel Linder managed to pull it off with suitably unsettling panache. Henry Moskowitz should be also be lauded for the fact that he directed the plays, and for his performance as the man with the hat, during which he demonstrated his incredible ability to stand motionless, slightly hunched over, peering out of a window, for an astoundingly long period of time.