“Where is the existential clowning piece for women?” This is the question actor-writers Gab Cody and Rita Reis posed to themselves a few years ago, prompted by watching scenes from Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, and their witty, delightful answer is on view in Lawrenceville courtesy of Quantum Theatre.
I’d like to be able to tell you what Fat Beckett is “about,” but, as with the play that inspired it, that’s a difficult thing to do, because it’s about both nothing and everything. Like Waiting for Godot, Fat Beckett asks us to ponder serious existential questions (why are we here? what is the purpose of life? is there a destination? who’s got my goat?) in the most absurd and ridiculous manner possible. But unlike Godot — which carries the genre distinction “tragicomedy” — Fat Beckett has no confusion about what kind of theater it wants to be. Loaded with physical clowning, clever wordplay, and some groanworthy puns, Fat Beckett consistently goes for the jocular.
The play begins as Sophie (Cody) and Kiki (Reis) search for their goat, named, appropriately, Beckett (pronounced Bee-KET, and probably properly spelled “Biquette.” But let’s not get too academic — this is a comedy, after all!). Why a goat, you might ask? (as well you should!) I don’t know, but my inner theater historian reminds me that the word for tragedy stems from the Greek for “goat song,” so…why not? In any event, Beckett-the-goat is no more likely to make an appearance here than Godot does there; the wandering goat is merely the absurd absence that propels the characters’ existence and presence. The play ends, suprisingly (or maybe not), with Beckett-the-goat tantalizingly within the characters’ reach. In between: alligators, Babel, babble, significant changes of perspective, and … profiteroles.
Cody and Reis have a wonderful “odd couple” dynamic: Cody’s Sophie is the urbane, verbally adept explorer to Reis’s at times hapless Kiki — except when the tables are turned and Kiki unexpectedly yanks the rug out from under Sophie (Reis, remarkably, manages to be LOL funny in four languages). The two successfully recycle familiar comic tropes, in, for example, their own versions of the “Who’s on First?” sketch and what I can only describe as the familiar “low class character in high class setting” routine. The performance site, the “Old School House” in Lawrenceville, is appropriately intimate and vast, and the scene design by Kellan Anderson allows the space to sediment its own ruined history into the story. Director Sam Turich has set an ironic and playful mood that is excellently supported by the costumes, light, and sound (Kellan Anderson, Scott Nelson, and Andrew Sours, respectively).
While it’s not necessary to brush up on your Beckett before seeing this play, those who still remember Godot from an earlier exposure may appreciate, as I did, the subtle and not-so-subtle ways in which Cody and Reis are responding and reacting to the work that was their inspiration. In particular, Fat Beckett grabs by the goat’s horns what I have always found most irksome about Godot, namely, its status as a play about the “universal” human existential quandary. Beckett himself tacitly acknowledged how gendered his exploration of that quandary was when he refused to allow women to be cast in the play; Fat Beckett focuses just enough on what might be seen as a female point of view to offer us a welcome comic shift in perspective on its source text as well as on the seriously ridiculous questions it sets out not to answer.