NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts will present Irish actress Lisa Dwan in her internationally acclaimed Beckett Trilogy: Not /Footfalls/ Rockaby, running for six performances from April 13 – 17, 2016, at NYU Skirball Center. Beckett Trilogy will open on April 13, the 110th Anniversary of Samuel Beckett’s birth, and the opening night performances will feature a post-show celebration and conversation honoring Beckett’s legacy.
Dwan has become world famous in the recent past performing the works of Samuel Beckett. Her trilogy of one-woman Beckett plays has sold out all over the world, from London’s West End to Hong Kong, Paris, Belfast, Cambridge and New York, where she was described by Ben Brantley in The New York Times as “an instrument of Beckett, in that way saints and martyrs are said to be instruments of God.” These performances will be the last time Dwan will perform The Beckett Trilogy.
Dwan had been performing Not I since 2005, directed by Natalie Abrahami. The Times of London said Dwan “turned what is commonly regarded as the hardest role an actor can tackle into a tour de force.” Dwan was then specially coached by the late actress Billie Whitelaw into Not I. Whitelaw, who died last year, was long considered Beckett’s own muse and had been coached into the part by Beckett himself.
The program is completed with two other Beckett classics: Footfalls and Rockaby, directed by Beckett’s close friend, assistant, favorite director and long-time collaborator Walter Asmus, who suggested that these plays could be performed as a single program.
In January 2014, Dwan performed them in a critically acclaimed sold out engagement at the Royal Court Theatre in London, where forty years previously Not I had its UK premiere. This was followed by a transfer to the West End and the international tour that included sold-out performances at BAM in 2014. The production has earned the most extraordinary reviews and sold out every venue she has played around the world.
Lisa Dwan talks about Beckett Trilogy
Lisa Dwan said, “This is late Beckett. He distilled and distilled and pared away all the fat and you are left with something very potent. In these plays, I play womb to tomb, a country, a continent; I travel vast differences of age. I think he gets closer writing a sort of truth about the human condition, our frailty, our humanity. And to an actor, he offers the most expansive landscape you could ever imagine. What other author would ask that much of me? These performances sell out -- and I am amazed that a quarter century after his death that there is a great hunger to hear this work.”
Not I is an intense monologue, set in a pitch-black space lit by a single beam of light. A disembodied female mouth floats eight feet above the stage and delivers a stream of consciousness, spoken, as Beckett directed, at the speed of thought “to play on the nerves of the audience, not the intellect,” said Dwan. It cannot be performed fast enough. For Whitelaw the speed of thought was 14 minutes; for Dwan the speed of thought is nine minutes.
“When I met Billie Whitelaw we greeted each other as long lost war warriors. Neither of us had met another actor who had played the role. About a year later she asked me if I could come around. ‘I want to give you his notes; I need to give you his notes.’ I fully expected her to take out a rehearsal manuscript with his handwriting – but instead she asked me to sit down at the kitchen table. She instructed me to begin – and then she began to conduct me, just as Beckett had conducted her, across a kitchen table.”
Footfalls features the character May, wrapped in tatters, pacing back and forth like a metronome, on a strip of bare landing outside her dying mother’s room. Footfalls was first performed by Billie Whitelaw, for whom the piece had been written, at the Royal Court Theatre, as part of the 1976 Samuel Beckett Festival, directed by Beckett. Dwan’s performance is the first time the Beckett Estate has let one actress play both roles (mother off stage and May on stage).
Rockaby is considered one of the most famous of Beckett’s last works. It explores loneliness and features a prematurely old woman dressed in an evening gown, sitting on a wooden rocking chair that appears to rock of its own accord. Rockaby was first performed in New York in 1980 starring Billie Whitelaw and then at the National Theatre in 1981.
The Critics talk about Beckett Trilogy
Anthony Lane said in The New Yorker, "Beckett was never more potent than when writing for one woman, alone or desolate onstage, and Dwan, still in her thirties, is the foremost inheritor of that power."
Ben Brantley said in The New York Times, “A deeply sobering and equally intoxicating experience. You will probably never have another chance to see these difficult but profoundly accessible late works from a master embodied as perfectly as they are here … [This] astonishing actress … doesn’t just uncover layers; she digs all the way to the void beneath them. Yes, she speaks Beckett’s text like a violin virtuoso playing Paganini. But she also listens — and insists that we listen — to the quiet that surrounds them.”
Paul Levy, writing in the Wall Street Journal said, “One of the theatrical experiences of a lifetime.”
Lyn Gardner said in The Guardian, “It is an extraordinary experience, completely immersive, which demands much of Dwan and the audience, too … we walk out of theatre knowing we've been given one more chance to live.”
Fintan O’Toole, writing in the Irish Times Review, said, “You will seldom see in any art form such a perfect balance between profound respect for a tradition on the one side and urgent invention on the other.”
About The Artists
Lisa Dwan is a producer, performer, and director. Having trained in the UK as a ballet dancer, including dancing with Rudolf Nureyev in Coppelia in Dublin, she began acting professionally in her teens. She has worked extensively in theater, film and television, both internationally and in her native Ireland. Most recently she has performed her own sellout adaptation of Samuel Beckett’s Text for Nothing, entitled NO’s Knife at the Lincoln Center in New York.
In 2012, she adapted, produced, and performed the critically acclaimed one-woman play Beside the Sea in the U.K., and starred in Goran Bregovic’s new music drama, Margot, Diary of an Unhappy Queen at the Barbican in London. Recent theater credits also include Illusions by Ivan Viripaev at the Bush Theatre and Dear Bessie: Letters Live with Benedict Cumberbatch (Hay Festival and West End). Dwan writes, presents, lectures and teaches regularly on theater, culture, and Beckett. She has been commissioned to write a book on Beckett for Virago, and produce and present a BBC Radio 4 piece on Dante.
She is currently artist-in-residence at NYU School for Arts and Ballet and has been invited to be Artist in Residence-in-Princeton University in spring 2017. In September 2016 she will present a world premiere of a new Samuel Beckett one-woman production at the Old Vic Theatre London.
Director Walter Asmus was Beckett’s long time friend and collaborator, assisting him on many of his productions at the Schiller Theatre in Berlin and for TV in Stuttgart. His production of Waiting for Godot toured internationally, including a 2008 a one night-only tour of the 32 counties of Ireland, was often described as the “definitive production.”
Samuel Beckett (1906 – 1989), one of the most influential and important writers of the twentieth century, is considered one of the last modernist writers, and one of the key figures in the Theatre of the Absurd movement. Beckett's work often focused on the absurdity of human existence; his many plays,
novels, essays and poems include Waiting for Godot, Endgame, Happy Days and Krapp’s Last Tape. He was awarded the 1969 Nobel Prize in Literature.
Click link for a preview of Lisa Dwan in Not I: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e4qaRp4t4jg
Beckett Trilogy is a Lisa Dwan Production in Association with ArKtype / Thomas O, Kriegsmann. Beckett Trilogy was originally co-produced with the Royal Court Theatre in association with Cusack Projects Limited.
NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts is the premier venue for the presentation of cultural and performing arts events for New York University and lower Manhattan. The NYU Skirball mission is to showcase and support diverse and eclectic talent from around the world, while cultivating audiences for live performance through deeper engagement opportunities. For more information visit: www.nyuskirball.org.
Not I, Footfalls and Rockaby will play for six performances, April 13-17, 2016 as follows: April 13 – 16 at 8pm; April 16 at 2pm; and April 17 at 3 pm. Tickets are $25 - $65. All tickets may be purchased online at www.nyuskirball.org, by phone at 212.998.4941,or in person at the NYU Skirball Center Box Office: Tuesday-Saturday, 12:00–6:00 P.M. NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts is located at 566 LaGuardia Place at Washington Square, New York, New York 10012.