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Shows Worth Seeing:



All That Fall
By Samuel Beckett
Cherry Lane Theatre
38 Commerce St.

Samuel Beckett refused numerous requests to adapt his radio plays for the stage—some from rather reputable people, like Laurence Olivier and Joan Plowright. He said his radio works were written to “come out of the dark” and couldn’t work any other way, and since his death his Estate has assiduously followed his wishes. Permission is granted only for faithful radio productions or for staged readings in which producers agree to limit the action to actors speaking the lines and walking to and from chairs. The director John Sowle, in his current staging of All That Fall (1957), Beckett’s first and most populous radio drama, has cleverly identified a loophole in the rules: since the play requires many elaborate and self-consciously artificial sound-effects, the production of those effects can become a spectacle in its own right. On stage at the Cherry Lane are a wind-machine, gravel-trays, bells, coconuts, a stationary bike and much more. Furthermore, the actors, who read in front of old-fashioned mics, dressed in 1950s clothes, never acknowledge the audience, even at the curtain call. The conceit is that they’re performing a live sound-stage broadcast of the play on which we’re eavesdropping. This doesn’t deliver quite the experience Beckett had in mind, because the strange, imagined world of the play is constantly competing with the actors’ decidedly un-strange and demonstrative emoting and with the radio studio’s nostalgic visual appeal. Nevertheless, the show develops a powerful emotional tug of its own, largely because of a few wonderful performers—notably Helen Calthorpe in the lead role of Maddy Rooney, Erik Kever Ryle as Christy, and Steven Patterson as Mr. Barrell. These actors’ handling of Beckett’s marvelously extravagant language will certainly send many searching for this still too-little-known text. And by any fair measure, that does the author credit.


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