Quantum Theatre has embarked on another maiden voyage. It's world-premiering Fat Beckett, created by Pittsburgh's Gab Cody with Portuguese/Luxembourger Rita Reis.
They chose to spin off Samuel Beckett's bleak conundrum of futility Waiting for Godot, given that Beckett's estate prohibits women from playing the roles. They also express a fondness for "the French language [and] serious comedy." A valid impetus: Beckett's play was first published in French, and the work has always been open to multiple interpretations pointed up with comic touches.
The result doesn't seem an obvious send-up of Godot, despite the characters looking for a goat and a couple of other elements. And the meandering dialogue does resemble equivalent Theatre of the Absurd pieces. As for the funny stuff, pointed playing incorporates a wide range of visual and verbal shticks, looking most like the work is aiming for laughs, not for provoking pondering. Cody, Reis and director Sam Turich have devised many clever uses of puppets, props, sound and lighting. The verbal gags, though, seem more obvious than original. On opening night, the audience regularly burst into enthusiastic laughter. I did not. As for internal meanings, you'd have to study the script or … God'o help you … attend more than once, to look for them.
Reis has a wonderful sense of clowning, full of charm and vocal virtuosity, making her a delight to watch. But to hear and understand? She frequently speaks either French or English with a French accent, and often I found it difficult to distinguish which was which. Cody skillfully performs the visual bits but has a more generic character. While Beckett's own dialogue in most productions of Godot comes across earnest and thoughtful in comprehensible speeches, both of these actors resort to too much shouting for such a small playing space, throwing whatever points they may contain flat against the peeling walls.
Speaking of that, Quantum has validly chosen to stage this show in a desolate stretch of Lawrenceville, a neighborhood which looks as if falling apart.
Cody and Reis write that they wanted to create "highly physical theater that poses existential questions in the most ridiculous of situations." They have made these 75 or so minutes look physically inventive and original. As for such questions, I have one: "Do they exist?"
FAT BECKETT continues through Dec. 18. Quantum Theatre at the Old Schoolhouse, 4830 Hatfield St., Lawrenceville. 888-718-4253 or www.quantumtheatre.com