By Joseph Hurley
COMPANY, by Samuel Beckett. A Rude Mechanicals Theatre Company production. At the Rude Room of the Access Theater, 380 Broadway, NYC. Open-ended run.
Anyone still clinging to the hoary opinion that there’s nothing new under the theatrical sun might do well to venture down to the Rude Room of the Access Theater, at the Northeast corner of Broadway and White Street, to see the Rude Mechanicals, a young company that last season did an admirable production of Samuel Beckett’s “Endgame,” perform, if that’s the proper term, an utterly fascinating 60-minute venture entitled “Company,” drawn from what is generally thought to be the Irish master’s last completed work.
After climbing three longish flights of stairs leading to the Access Theater’s two spaces, one of which has been designated the Rude Room, in honor of its new occupants, the audience, limited to 24 in number, reaches a reception area lined with folding chairs, where each individual is provided with a blindfold and a program containing, among other things, a half-page set of instructions which he or she is firmly, but gently, instructed to read, so as not to be unduly surprised by anything which is to follow.
The audience members are urged to remove their shoes and to leave anything they might have brought along, including keys, change, and whatever else might normally belong in the pockets of trousers, in the waiting room, which will, the audience is guaranteed, be not only locked, but guarded, during the ensuing hour.
With shoes doffed, blindfolds are donned, and, after a moment in the dark, the audience is gently ushered into the performance space by the tender hands of the dozen female members of the Rude Mechanicals Company. The troupe, on this occasion, numbers 16 in all, but the four males carry much of the endeavor’s narrative vocal line, without interacting physically with the members of the audience, who are guided to a prone position on comfortable foam mats placed around the large working area.
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If the performance has a “full house” of 24, each of the company’s 12 women is responsible for “operating” and generally looking after two members of the audience, touching them, urging them to sit up, turn over, fold their hands over their chests, assume a position of prayer, cross their ankles, and so forth, all communicated through touch and without any sort of verbalization. All the while, the dozen female mechanicals, speaking close to audience ears, contribute to the swelling, ongoing textual fabric.
The Rude Mechanicals call what they’re doing an “interactive Beckett bedtime story,” and if it sounds a bit like gimmickry, it most definitely is not. What it is, is a reward theatrical experience.
In the graceful, eloquent Beckett text, an old man is fairly clearly approaching death, lying on his back, reflecting on aspects of his life as it ebbs away.
In “Company,” under artistic director Ryan Rilette, four actors speak “roles” identified in the program as “Intellect,” “Emotion,” “Body” and “Memory,” while the 12-woman ensemble, identified as “Voice,” weaves and augments the text spoken by the quartet of principals.
Taken on its own, “Company” seems to bring the audience closer to the text than any conventional form of presentation could ever do. The result might reasonably be said to be an entirely original, unique blend of radio, stage, and even, in an odd and abstracted sense, reading.
Delicate and precise in every way, “Company,” a striking amalgamation of text and sound, lingers comfortably in the mind long after the blindfolds have come off. When the blinds do come off, the Rude Mechanicals are there, smiling and offering their audience cookies and milk, as befits the end of a bedtime story, even, or perhaps especially, a Beckettian one.