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A Reader's Guide to Samuel Beckett
Malone Dies was the second part of a trilogy of novels by
Irish author and playwright Samuel Beckett consisting of Molloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnameable.
The original publication of the book in French in 1951 preceded the theatrical debut of En
Attendant Godot (Waiting
for Godot), which catapulted him to international renown in 1953. His own
English-language translation of Malone Dies was first published in 1958.
The novel follows the stream of consciousness narration of an old man who lies dying in an unnamed room. It is never explicitly revealed of what he is dying or if hes in a hospital, an asylum, or his home. He relates a tale which may be inspired by (and feature elements of) his own experience, the story of a nondescript man who ends up in the care of an institution populated by eccentric characters including a masochistic careprovider.
But the story never comes to an end. It continually spirals off into sub-narratives in which aspects of character and society are illustrated and criticized and the lines between prose and poetry are blurred. Beckett was once again exploring the limits of narrative form and asks his audience to join him on a surreal journey through the haunted landscape of memory and imagination.
Gare St. Lazare Players are presenting an adaptation of the novel now being performed at the Andrews Lane Studio, an intimate venue perfectly suited to the endeavor. The novel has been adapted by director Judy Hegarty and actor Conor Lovett. The latter performs the work alone, in character, standing under four simple spotlights for roughly an hour.
This is a risky venture, not least of all because the richness of Becketts writing doesnt necessarily translate all that well into spoken word. The script is filled with extraordinary images and complex linguistic constructions which demand a great deal of concentration from the audience. While the reader has the luxury of being able to review passages when reading the novel, the theatre patron must rely on the actors delivery.
Lovett therefore finds himself in a tough position here, and he rises to the challenge quite well. At the Andrews Lane Studio the actor is never more than about twelve feet from the furthest seated member of the audience, so patrons are given every opportunity to study his work at extremely close quarters. Dressed in the unmistakable garb of an elderly man of a previous generation, Lovett affects a nervy, halting demeanor. He shuffles nervously as he tells the tale, frequently stopping to interrupt himself as the narrator begins to trail off into some random thought or story within the story.
Lovett gives the impression of age despite having the appearance of youth and is always precise and careful in his delivery. His bright eyes demonstrate an openness and candor in the character befitting one who speaks the lines: I forgive nobody. I wish them all an atrocious life and then the fires and ice of hell and in the execrable generations to come an honored name. Occasionally the actor breaks into an impression of one of the other characters as described from Malones point of view, but it is largely a matter of adopting the manner and tone of the novels narrator. He succeeds in this, and even risks direct eye contact with members of the audience as he speaks, which enhances the sense that this is a man telling a tale rather than a reader simply reciting dialogue.
It is not the actors fault that he still cannot quite overcome the complexity of the text. It is all too easy to drift away into a contemplation of the scenes described, and to wonder about elements of the language used rather than the words as spoken. Malone Dies is, after all, a written text first and foremost, and though Beckett wrote many plays, when working in that medium he was more concerned with its parameters and peculiarities. Hegarty and Lovett have done well in abridging and adapting the novel, but it is still not a play. It is, of course, involving, sometimes funny, usually dark and sorrowful, and almost always hypnotic. But these are the words of Beckett more so than the theatrical experience.
Still, there are always rewards to be had from experiencing Beckett in any form, so it is worthwhile for those with a predisposition to the material. Those in search of more conventional entertainments may not find it so satisfying.