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Theater Review An earnest Beckett recital

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Joseph Hurley

MOLLOY, by Samuel Beckett. Featuring Conor Lovett. Directed by Julie Hegarty. A Gare St. Lazare production at the Irish Arts Center, 533 West 51 St., NYC Through May 30 (with a possible extension).

Roughly two-and-a-half years, stretching from May, 1947 to around January of 1950, stands as what was probably the most intensely fertile time of Samuel Beckett’s unusually prolific writing career.

Working compulsively, the Dublin-born playwright and novelist completed "Waiting for Godot" and finished all three parts of a trilogy, "Molloy," "Malone Dies," and "The Unnameable," working all three books at the same time, according to one of his most prominent biographers, James Knowlson. Beckett, of course, was living in Paris during this burst of creativity, and, as was the case during much of his productive life, writing in French, a tongue he found vastly less confining than his native English.

Now, a Cork-born actor, Conor Lovett, has brought about an hour of "Molloy," the first novel in the trilogy, to the stage of the Irish Arts Center for a limited run, after doing the show in London in 1996, and, subsequently, in such venues as the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the Dublin Theatre Festival, both in 1997, and, more recently, on a tour of Spain.

What the slight, gaunt, bald-pated Lovett is doing would most accurately, perhaps, be referred to as an "arrangement" of the material rather than anything resembling an adaptation. This version, a memorized presentation of the first "Molloy" chapters, lovingly sculpted by the actor and his director and wife, Judy Hegarty, is simplicity itself.

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Addressing the audience directly, Lovett moves from the first to the second of two low platforms, and then onto the stage floor itself, somewhat in the manner in which the late Jimmy Durante moved from one spotlit area to the next in his long-running TV show.

Lovett’s rendering of Beckett’s prose lacks the specificity and the surging inner fire brought to it by the late Jack MacGowran and the extraordinary Barry McGovern. The actor, however, is young, and, with the passage of time will probably acquire the resonance and depth brought to Beckett a decade or so ago not only by the great MacGowran but by another sterling performer now vanished from the scene, Patrick Magee.

"Molloy" is, among other things, one of Beckett’s most compellingly self-revealing works, shedding rare light on the intensity of his enduring attachment to his overprotective mother, a former nurse who turned her energetic attentions to the rearing of her children in the affluent Dublin district of Foxrock.

Lovett and Hegarty have, for obscure reasons, elected to pass over the familiar opening lines of "Molloy," and begin their selection slightly later. "I am in my mother’s room," the book begins. "It’s I who live there now. I don’t know how I got there."

The actor presents the material without much inflection, as though unwillingly to make any personal impact on the text. His voice, at least in this instance, edges toward the monotonous. Mainly, he seems not to be acting at all, at least not in any conventional sense. What Lovett does might better be thought of as a form of recitation.

Similarly, the actor’s rather plain, almost featureless face sheds little if any information on Lovett’s feelings about "Molloy," beyond a suitable sort of reverence.

Lovett has played Hamm in Beckett’s "Endgame," and Vladimir in the playwright’s "Waiting for Godot," and, given time, he will probably develop into a useful and even expert exponent of the writer’s work. For the moment, however, "Molloy," as represented by the actor, comes across as something of an exercise, though well worth seeing even in its somewhat incomplete form.

Another reason for a trip to the Irish Arts Center during the run of "Molloy" is John L. Reilly’s excellent hour-length documentary film, "Waiting for Beckett," which is shown following a brief intermission after Lovett’s performance.

The film, perhaps unavoidably, casts an unfortunate light on Conor Lovett’s earnest presentation of "Molloy," since it includes clips not only of actors MacGowran and Magee performing bits of Beckett, but a string of snippets performed by "name" actors ranging from Zero Mostel and Burgess Meredith, who performed "Godot" on television, to Robin Williams and Steve Martin, who did the play at Lincoln Center a decade ago.

Despite being conceived as an interior monologue, "Molloy" is perhaps not ideally suited to stage adaptation. In a sense, perhaps the greatest service Lovett and Hegarty will have rendered Samuel Beckett will have been to have encouraged readers, some of them unfamiliar with the writer beyond the frequently performed plays, to tackle this great, rather neglected novel, and perhaps even the other two volumes comprising the towering trilogy. That, in itself, would rank as no small achievement.

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