BECKETT AND BRECHT THAT TIME, five short plays by Samuel Beckett, directed by Jennifer Tarver, with Barbara Gordon, Paul Fauteux and David Jansen. BéBé , created by Keira Loughran, Ruth Madoc-Jones, Camille Stubel, Severn Thompson and Jennifer Capraru, directed by Capraru, with Stubel, Madoc-Jones, Sarah Mennell and Stephanie Morgenstern. Presented by the Theatre Centre, Theatre Extasis and Theatre Asylum at the Theatre Centre (1087 Queen West). Previews begin Monday (December 6), opens Wednesday (December 8) and runs to December 19, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2 pm (BéBé also December 16) and 4 pm (That Time; also December 9 at 2 pm). Double bill $30, some single tickets $25, Sunday and December 6 pwyc, Thursday matinee $15; December 7 gala $50. Rating: NNNNN
For the past two decades, the Theatre Centre has been a hub of groundbreaking stage works in Toronto.
Now, collaborating with Theatre Extasis and Theatre Asylum, the company opens its newly renovated space with a double bill involving two giants of 20th-century theatre, Samuel Beckett and Bertolt Brecht.
But don't look for another version of Waiting For Godot or The Threepenny Opera, though you will get an ironic version of Brecht and Weill's Mack The Knife.
Instead, Jennifer Tarver mounts five rarely performed Beckett shorts under the joint title That Time, while Jennifer Capraru helms BéBé, a look at four women who played a major role in Brecht's life and work.
Workshopped in Rhubarb and Groundswell, BéBé focuses on writer Elizabeth Hauptmann, actor Helene Weigel, troubled proletarian Margarete Steffin and theatre artist Ruth Berlau, all of whom had affairs with Brecht (Weigel married him) and were in various ways his muses and, maybe more importantly, his fellow creators.
Very much a group effort, BéBé was researched and created collectively. It includes songs in the Kurt Weill vein by Cathy Nosaty, with lyrics by Morwyn Brebner, Marjorie Chan, Claudia Dey, Sonja Mills and Kilby Smith-McGreggor.
"Because it brings to light who these women were in Brecht's world, our director called the piece a modern-day lehrstuck, the teaching-play style of Brecht," notes Camille Stubel, who researched and plays Weigel.
"But we're also drawing on Brechtian theatre techniques, using an agitprop style of presentation with tableaux and choral effects. The result is a collage of four lives, the tale of a quartet of women who were united in their love of Brecht and their political beliefs."
The four performers all play Brecht himself at some point, and bits of his stage works are woven into the fabric of BéBé, the quotes commenting on the women's personal lives.
"It's appropriate, as we try to uncover the lives of these women in their collaborations with Brecht, that we're working collaboratively ourselves," adds Stubel.
"They didn't believe in ownership of property, nor can we prove the percentage of writing that any of them did. Sometimes in our own work," she laughs, "we can't recall who wrote what any more.
"But there's no denying the historic and theatrical importance of the works that Brecht created with these women. The plays, which use art as a tool to encourage viewers to take an active part in changing the world, may not be done a lot these days, but the style and methods they champion are still with us."
Beckett's work has that same resonance. Known for his spare, sometimes cryptic scripts, some of which are wordless, the playwright addresses something beyond the cerebral, offers actor Barbara Gordon.
"You can stop at the intellectual level, which can be seductive in its own right because there's so much room for investigating and analysis," says Gordon. "But that can be a trap.
"The real impact of Beckett for me, if it's well done, is beyond the intellectual."
Gordon performs the challenging Not I, a stream-of-consciousness monologue in which all that the audience sees is a pair of woman's lips speaking to a shadowy onstage listener.
Gordon says it's dangerous to say too much about the meaning of Beckett. With a visceral, theatrical work like Not I, she's decided not to worry about what he intends.
"I remember seeing a clip from it once and being thunderstruck at how a mouth spouting what seemed like gibberish could be so moving.
"He had the heart and insight that see into things that don't change. When I got beyond being overwhelmed by the script, I realized that he had huge compassion for the human situation. Still, he took a good, hard look at it, like Chekhov, and saw that life can be stupid and senseless and that human beings are so vulnerable.
"These days, when we're swamped with sentiment in the popular media, it's a refreshing tonic to be reminded that we're all alone here."