Life, death, alienation, futility: Beckett has it all at the Odyssey

Theatre Review: By Catherine Siggins

It seemed somehow fitting that the weather should have been suitably damp and Irish for the opening weekend of the KOAN Unit’s production of BECKETT5, a selection of 5 very different short plays by Samuel Beckett at the Odyssey Theatre.

What unifies these plays is Beckett’s lifelong exploration into the Sisyphean condition of man. His characters struggle, are trapped, and repeat patterns, without really knowing why, except that one must go on, until one simply doesn’t.

In “Act Without Words II”, two unspeaking figures A and B get goaded from their sleep. Each alone, they don’t interact, but go through the motions of their different lives, at times dragging the other across the floor; A, apathetically, B with energy. Glass half empty, glass half full.

Then there’s “Come and Go”, a play with a few words, 121 to be exact. Three women sit in a pool of light, their faces obscured. They mostly sit in silence, trapped in formality, nostalgic for their youth, when love and marriage was a shared dream, which never came to pass. Each will get to know a secret about her two friends, but unaware of her own plight. Together alone.

In “Catastrophe”, an authoritarian Director, and assistant put the last touches to a staged event, which is only a Man standing on a box, manipulated, and made wretched, for the ruling audience’s pleasure. However at the end he shows his face, reasserting his humanity and freewill. It’s one of Beckett’s few political pieces dedicated to the then imprisoned playwright, Vaclav Havel, whose political philosophy was of anti-consumerism, humanitarianism, environmentalism, civil activism, and direct democracy, and who was instrumental in expanding NATO membership eastward. It resonates especially today.

A tattered ashen woman in “Footfalls” obsessively paces back and forth in a hallway, talking to her mother through a door. She stops only to answer her or tell a story. Her mother’s disembodied voice can be heard, though as the play advances one wonders if it is not just a figment of the girl’s imagination, or two ghosts in a haunting. Past manifest in the present.

Krapp’s Last Tape, the most autobiographical of Beckett’s plays, let’s you watch awareness dawn in an old man’s eyes of how his decisions as a younger man, to choose his work over love and companionship, have left him alone, with only his recorded voice for company. It speaks to today’s anxiety and despair, felt by many much younger, when reviewing their social media presence against their desires and expectations, and their growing feeling of isolation in the digital age.

The KOAN Unit members, Alan Abelew, Diana Cignoni, Sheelagh Cullen, Beth Hogan, and Norbert Weisser playing Krapp, successfully bring their combined years of experience to the demands of Beckett’s writing. Director Ron Sossi and the production team have chosen to not stray from Beckett’s original staging and presentation, keeping the set design minimal, and lighting as dictated by Beckett, though Mr. Sossi has changed up the casting, giving Elizabeth Hogan two of the lead male roles, and allowed costume designer Audrey Eisner some freedom in Come and Go, clothing the women in bright pastel outfits reminiscent of the 50’s. He has also made Act Without Words II more a nod to silent film, then a mime.

If Beckett is your thing, this production makes for an engaging evening, and these short plays are a great way to experience a broad spectrum of Beckett’s exploration of life, death, loneliness, alienation and futility, and always with some wonderful dark humor.


BECKETT5 performances through March 5, 2017. Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes, with 15-minute intermission. The Odyssey Theatre is located at 2055 S Sepulveda Blvd in Los Angeles. Visit for showtimes and tickets.