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The power of fiction in theatre and the transformation of reality-2nd installment

Act Without Words II (by Samuel Beckett; directed by Sarah Jane Scaife)

Futoshi Sakauchi
Associate Professor of School of Culture, Media and Society, Faculty of Letters, Arts, and Sciences, Waseda University

This year's Dublin Theater Festival featured some brilliant rereading of classics by the likes of Sean O'Casey and Ibsen, but Becket's Act Without Words II really stood out. As the title suggests, this is a mime performance without any dialogue. Two large bags were placed on stage, and when a goad appears from the wing of the stage and fiercely pokes one of the bags, a man appears crawling out from inside, and then prays, becomes lost in thought, drinks some pills and gnaws on some carrots, before going back inside the bag. When the other bag is poked, the man who crawls out looks at his watch, does some exercise and brushes his teeth, before checking a map and staggering around, until finally going back into the bag. What is scary about this pantomime is that while viewing the comical and downright pathetic behavior of these men, the viewer may keenly perceive some images of him or herself in their actions.

However, in this production of comicality there was not an ounce of the lambent wit of Peter Brook, who has worked on the same play in recent years, and has been described as having brought out "the sunny side of Beckett." What is conveyed, through more lumbering hand movements, is a profound humor that self-referentially refers to the desperate self, whilst staving off the final collapse of humanity that is gradually crumbling.

Audience members who bought tickets are directed to assemble in front of a five-star hotel on the main street. As curtain time approaches, staff take them to the performance location, but this is an alley that is notorious for being the most unhygienic in Dublin. It is a dark and narrow dead-end street located at the back of a large theater, and is always filled with the stench of urine, vomit and excreta. It is the kind of place that ordinary citizens probably would not set foot in. Once the audience members stand frozen in the cold darkness, the doors facing the smelly dead-end street finally open, and two large bags appear in a band of light that shines through narrowly, and the performance begins.

Act Without Words II (Photograph: Futoshi Sakauchi)

It probably contains a critique on how the appeal of fiction is declining in society. However, one does not feel the safe position of being an audience member, as when maintaining a critical distance and looking through a mirror at the traditional figure of Ireland, collapsing from the sense of exaltation of a bubble economy to the mad scramble following an economic collapse. Both actors have directly felt the effects of the government cutting grants for artistic fields. For one of the actors, the theater troupe that he hosts suffered disastrous damage, while for the other, the university affiliated actors' training school that he worked at was closed, and therefore both men lost their jobs. While silently spending at the back-alley behind the large theater, and crawling out of the large rubbish bags and continually performing a series of movements adds another layer meaning the "discarded actor," because these two portray the humor in the desperation to stave off the collapse of humanity, they truly do have a lot of guts.

Act Without Words II (Photograph: Futoshi Sakauchi)

Turning towards me after having finished photographing their rehearsal, the two actors broke the silence of their pantomime and talked to me with energetic smiles. Later, one of the actors said to me, "Hopefully our paths will cross again soon," expressing his desire that we might meet again soon on the set of a theater. However, given the position of uncertainty about his future in which he finds himself, he was probably also literally expressing frankly that it was fortunate that both our paths should cross.

There is a certain kind of infectious pleasantness in the resilience of such a performance. However, it is confusing as to whether or not this pleasantness should be accepted happily. The performance also has the severity to press for a change in the viewer's attitude, and to change the position of the viewer from being a place in which he or she can observe the stage from a safe distance.

Futoshi Sakauchi
Associate Professor of School of Culture, Media and Society, Faculty of Letters, Arts, and Sciences, Waseda University

The author received his doctorate from the Doctoral Program in the School of English, Drama and Film at the University College Dublin (UCD). He is currently an associate professor of Studies in Media, Image, and Body at the School of Culture, Media and Society at Waseda University. His areas of expertise are physical representation theory and theatre theory. His major theses include Staging Bankruptcy of Male Sexual Fantasy: Lolita at the National Theatre" (published in Ireland on Stage: Beckett and After) and "Not I in an Irish Context" (published in Samuel Beckett Today/Aujourd'hui No. 19).