Here's a strange but true fact: For a period in the 1950s, in a town outside of Paris, the boy who would become known as André the Giant was driven to school by Samuel Beckett. (The writer was doing a favor for André's father, who'd helped Beckett build a cottage.) Would it be possible to write a play about those truck rides without vaulting into the realm of pure absurdity?
Bedlam Theatre Lowertown
Peter Rusk, Jon Mac Cole, and Ryan Underbakke have decided not to find out. Presented by Bedlam Theatre, Mr. Beckett and the World's Largest Boy is a romp through a couple dozen different visions of the relationship between the unlikely pair, and as soon as Beckett starts to reminisce about his younger days working at a Mexican restaurant off Lake Street in Minneapolis, it's clear that the creators (all three co-wrote, and Underbakke directs) aren't taking any undue pains to achieve historical authenticity.
The casting is perfect for this sort of show. Rusk plays the giant boy (the 12-year-old André was over six feet tall, we're told), in a necktie and overall shorts. Beckett is played by Cole, who's one of the Twin Cities' best comic actors, although it's hard to catch him outside the walls of Bedlam, where he's now co-artistic-director with Maren Ward.
The show opens with a fantastic visual gag, as Beckett revs his truck and the stage curtains blow back, with obvious contrivance, in a haze of smoke. We have a head-on view of this very strange little road trip, with André looking petulant and the chain-smoking Beckett seeming to be either existentially haunted or suffering from indigestion (or, most likely, some combination of the two).
Ranging from under a minute to several minutes long, the play's vignettes are punctuated by title sequences on video. The words are always the same — the show's title and the characters' names — with varying visuals (by Underbakke and Adam P. Loomis), and different iterations of the piece's theme song as performed in wide-ranging musical styles. The effect is something like an absurdist sitcom.
Some of the scenarios are highly amusing. In one, André offers to single-handedly lift the truck to repair a flat, and Beckett goes from skepticism to animated encouragement — even as he simultaneously flings insults at the outsized youngster. In another, the pair are joined by a puppet friend who turns out to have some personal issues.
Other skits are less successful, but this would hardly be a play about Samuel Beckett if it didn't try your patience at least a little bit. The show flips rapidly enough among scenes that if there's something you don't like, you can make a bathroom run and come back to find yourself in a whole new universe. For Beckett, maybe, every day felt like that.
Bedlam Theatre Lowertown