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Beckett from TV to the stage

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Joseph Hurley

EH JOE, by Samuel Beckett. Directed by and starring Cradeaux Alexander. At Kraine Theatre, 85 East 4th St. Thursdays through Mondays at 8 p.m. Through Aug. 13.

"Eh Joe," as far as anyone knows, is the only thing Samuel Beckett ever wrote for TV, and that’s where it was first seen, on July 4, 1966, via the BBC.

As produced, it was an unrelenting harangue, with a silent man being haunted by the voice of his recently deceased female companion, as the camera advanced on his face a few inches each time the speaker fell silent, until the final words were heard over the tightest possible close-up of his anguished features.

Now, and through Aug. 13, there is a stage version of this inherently unstagable work, presented as the first offering of a debuting company called Negative Antelope, arranged by the group’s artistic director, Cradeaux Alexander, who also plays the lead.

In this particular "Eh Joe," as reconceived by Alexander, it is the aggrieved "woman," complaining from beyond the grave, who is visible, while the object of "her" wrath remains unseen.

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The result, while bizarre in the extreme is hardly uninteresting.

Upon entering the theatre, the audience is confronted by a downstage bank of triple-tiered floral displays, made up of roses, mainly, and each one topped with a gleaming "human" skull of glistening black enamel.

Alexander, wearing a black tank top over an extremely sheer, flaring skirt of scarlet, edged in black lace, plays the heretofore unseen "woman," backed up by a trio of dryads, clad in beige shifts, and largely indistinguishable one from another, except that two are fair and the third is dark.

That dark sister is played by the Brazilian Pia Franco, while her blonde companions are Marianna Romalis and Anne McKay. As they writhe, repeating and underscoring fragments of the speaker’s text, sometimes in unison and at other moments achieving a sort of intellectual counterpoint, "Eh Joe" begins to resemble the kind of Las Vegas showroom act parodied in the closing moments of "A Chorus Line."

The underlying text of "Eh Joe" concerns itself with the guilt-stricken man, listening as his dead partner recalls details of their life together, beginning with banalities and then spiraling angrily into a morass of accusation and hostility, woven from the details of an adulterous affair the man had had with a younger woman, an infidelity so grievous to the speaker that she took her life by ingesting pills.

Beckett isn’t known for the crystalline nature of his plot detailing, but director Alexander’s gender bending and visual embroidery serve mainly to sink the master’s storyline to a depth where it becomes virtually subterranean.

The greatest virtue in "Eh Joe" as rendered on stage is to allow devout Beckettians an opportunity to familiarize themselves with a minor but interesting work they might otherwise never hear, except in their own mind’s voice as they read. And some of the strengths of the play do manage to find their way through the oddnesses of this most peculiar production.

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