“That Time”, this time, 26 years ago and Julian Beck

Julian Beck in "That Time"

The “Last Time”, “That Time”, when I last saw Julian Beck, 26 years ago.

It has been 26 years  since I saw Julian alive and kicking ass. We were touring with the Beckett Trilogy in Frankfurt  (Theater am Turm) and being scrutinized by a (fairly unknown)

Chatting with Heiner Mueller at his residence in Berlin -

Heiner Mueller sitting with his entourage in the audience,  after an overwhelming success at the La MaMa Annex. Julian and Judith, Tom and other members of the Living theater were there and we were ready to continue the tour when…..well, “…were the ruins still there where you played as a child? When was that?? (Samuel Beckett)

Here’s the New York Times article launching the play.

Beckett Trilogy

New York Times, March 8, 1985

STEPHEN HOLDEN

The American premiere of a work by Samuel Beckett has to be counted among the more significant events of any theatrical season. And when that premiere involves three patriarchs of today’s experimental theater, expectations are bound to run high. ”Samuel Beckett Trilogy” – an evening of short pieces that opens at the La Mama Annex on Sunday – will bring together George Bartenieff, Fred Neumann and Julian Beck. That three such figures should gather for almost a month of Beckett constitutes a rare kind of tribute from one generation of experimentalists – the three men are in their 50’s – to the 78-year- old author who started it all.

Mr. Bartenieff, with his wife, Crystal Field, is the co-founder and co- artistic director of Theater for the New City, the East Village company that has won more than 25 Obie awards and presented the New York premiere of Sam Shepard’s ”Buried Child.” Fred Neumann is a founder of Mabou Mines, the experimental theater collective, and recently won an Obie in the company’s production of Franz Xavier Kroetz’s ”Through the Leaves.” And Julian Beck, as a co- founder of the Living Theater, with his wife, Judith Malina, is an experimental theater legend. His appearance in ”Samuel Beckett Trilogy” will be his first stage performance outside his own troupe in 20 years.

The man who brought this remarkable trio together is Gerald Thomas, the 30-year-old director of last year’s critically acclaimed production of the Beckett monodrama ”All Strange Away.”

Three Sparse Works

Mr. Thomas, discussing his casting coup during an interview the other day, spoke of the ”Beckettian qualities” of his three stars. ”I’d been an admirer of Julian’s for a long time, and there is something about his body, face, and mind – his aura of solemnity and peace – that strikes me as quintessentially Beckettian,” the director said. ”Fred Neumann is an old Beckettian whom I met a few years ago, when I saw him doing an extraordinary production of Beckett’s ‘Company.’ George Bartenieff, whom I had met in passing many times, always looked to me like Clove from ‘Endgame.’ ”

The sparse works that make up ”Samuel Beckett Trilogy” are ”Theater I,” ”Theater II” and ”That Time,” all written in the 1970’s. ”Theater I” and ”Theater II” are plays for two and three characters, and ”That Time” a solo monologue featuring Mr. Beck.

The first work is reminiscent of ”Endgame”: its setting is ”ruins” and its two characters survivors. ”Theater II” is more realistic, almost Pinteresque, with autobiographical elements. In it, a man mysteriously summons two characters to whom he never speaks but who converse about him and assess his life with a brutal detachment. For ”That Time,” the dialogue is taped, as Mr. Beck plays a man listening and reacting to three different aspects of his own mind. These three voices, all Mr. Beck’s, speak in different timbres that the director has arranged into a sort of musical counterpoint.

Reverence for Playwright

Discussing their feelings about Beckett and the challenge of performing him, all three actors spoke in a tone of reverence.

”I’ve found that even in those Beckett monologues not written for stage, there is a live speaking voice,” Mr. Neumann said. ”At the same time, there are so few words. In striking the notes, it is a challenge not to impose an interpretation, but to leave it open. Sometimes, I think that not even words, but simple noises would suffice.”

Of the three actors, Mr. Neumann is the only one who has had a close relationship with the playwright. He attended the premiere of ”Waiting for Godot” in 1953, and later performed in or directed other Beckett works, including ”Cascando,” ”Mercier and Camier” and ”Company,” for Mabou Mines. Recently, the playwright granted him permission to direct a new piece called ”Worstward, Ho,” which Mabou Mines will present at the Public Theater late this season or early next.

”It’s a very grim text,” Mr. Neumann observed. ”I think the title refers to the setting sun. When I saw Beckett last December, he said, ‘O.K., Fred, but no music, for pity’s sake – it’s my last gasp.’

The American premiere of a work by Samuel Beckett has to be counted among the more significant events of any theatrical season. And when that premiere involves three patriarchs of today’s experimental theater, expectations are bound to run high. ”Samuel Beckett Trilogy” – an evening of short pieces that opens at the La Mama Annex on Sunday – will bring together George Bartenieff, Fred Neumann and Julian Beck. That three such figures should gather for almost a month of Beckett constitutes a rare kind of tribute from one generation of experimentalists – the three men are in their 50’s – to the 78-year- old author who started it all.

Mr. Bartenieff, with his wife, Crystal Field, is the co-founder and co- artistic director of Theater for the New City, the East Village company that has won more than 25 Obie awards and presented the New York premiere of Sam Shepard’s ”Buried Child.” Fred Neumann is a founder of Mabou Mines, the experimental theater collective, and recently won an Obie in the company’s production of Franz Xavier Kroetz’s ”Through the Leaves.” And Julian Beck, as a co- founder of the Living Theater, with his wife, Judith Malina, is an experimental theater legend. His appearance in ”Samuel Beckett Trilogy” will be his first stage performance outside his own troupe in 20 years.

The man who brought this remarkable trio together is Gerald Thomas, the 30-year-old director of last year’s critically acclaimed production of the Beckett monodrama ”All Strange Away.”

Three Sparse Works

Mr. Thomas, discussing his casting coup during an interview the other day, spoke of the ”Beckettian qualities” of his three stars. ”I’d been an admirer of Julian’s for a long time, and there is something about his body, face, and mind – his aura of solemnity and peace – that strikes me as quintessentially Beckettian,” the director said. ”Fred Neumann is an old Beckettian whom I met a few years ago, when I saw him doing an extraordinary production of Beckett’s ‘Company.’ George Bartenieff, whom I had met in passing many times, always looked to me like Clove from ‘Endgame.’ ”

The sparse works that make up ”Samuel Beckett Trilogy” are ”Theater I,” ”Theater II” and ”That Time,” all written in the 1970’s. ”Theater I” and ”Theater II” are plays for two and three characters, and ”That Time” a solo monologue featuring Mr. Beck.

The first work is reminiscent of ”Endgame”: its setting is ”ruins” and its two characters survivors. ”Theater II” is more realistic, almost Pinteresque, with autobiographical elements. In it, a man mysteriously summons two characters to whom he never speaks but who converse about him and assess his life with a brutal detachment. For ”That Time,” the dialogue is taped, as Mr. Beck plays a man listening and reacting to three different aspects of his own mind. These three voices, all Mr. Beck’s, speak in different timbres that the director has arranged into a sort of musical counterpoint.

Julian, George and FredJulian in "That Time"

Of the three actors, Mr. Neumann is the only one who has had a close relationship with the playwright. He attended the premiere of ”Waiting for Godot” in 1953, and later performed in or directed other Beckett works, including ”Cascando,” ”Mercier and Camier” and ”Company,” for Mabou Mines. Recently, the playwright granted him permission to direct a new piece called ”Worstward, Ho,” which Mabou Mines will present at the Public Theater late this season or early next.

”It’s a very grim text,” Mr. Neumann observed. ”I think the title refers to the setting sun. When I saw Beckett last December, he said, ‘O.K., Fred, but no music, for pity’s sake – it’s my last gasp.’

For Mr. Bartenieff, the challenge in acting Beckett is to do justice to a vision he described as ”awe-inspiring.” ”The level of existence Beckett evokes is harsh, but imbued with a fierce passion to go on,” he said. ”And in these days, it speaks to one in a very direct way.”

On the Brink of Music

Mr. Beck sees his monologue as being about ”the vacuity of existence in so many lives and our intense concentration on relatively insignificant things.” He added, ”It seems to me a critique of human sensibility in its present stage of evolution. But it ends with a significant note of survival and hope.”

Mr. Thomas, describing his approach to the works, returned to Mr. Neumann’s musical analogy. ”All three pieces are being directed very much on the brink of bursting into music, because in all of Beckett’s work you’re dealing with a mind conducting a dialectic. I like to divide it up in sounds. But in the end, these voices and the hidden emotional resources within them are different versions and evolutionary stages of a single being.”

”Samuel Beckett Trilogy” will be performed at La Mama, 74A East Fourth Street, Wednesday through Sunday evenings at 7, through March 31. All seats are $15, with Theater Development Fund vouchers accepted on Friday and Saturday evenings. Rates for students and the elderly are available. The box office and charge number is 475-7710.

PS: Interviews with Judith Malina can be seen on 

http://geraldthomas.net/talks.html

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