A reader tells a sad story to a listener, who only knocks in response.

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A reader tells a sad story to a listener, who only knocks in response.

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Re-literalising Beckett
7 March 2001 | by (dublin, ireland) – See all my reviews

It is a surprise when reading some of Beckett's late plays as texts to find, not only how devastatingly moving they are in their depictions of loss, solitude, paralysis etc., but how the suffusion of nostalgia makes them almost sentimental. this is only as text - on stage these words are put through a formal grinder, mechanised, deconstructed; words with specific meanings turned into mere physical constructs hurled at the audience. So the wail at a lifetime of emotional repression in 'Not I' becomes an elevated mouth chattering machine-like; or the poignant recollections of 'That time' become a broken fugue of megaphoned voices terrorising an old man with comical mad-scientist hair.

Of all these works, 'Ohio Impromptu' veers closest to sentiment. It is a simple, gorgeous work, about a Reader telling the story of a grief-stricken man to that mourner, which formal self-reflexivity, amusing costume and self-parodic solemnity cannot shake, speaking not only to those who have loved and lost, but also to those who are too selfish to truly love, and can only give of themselves when it is too late.

One of the curious things about this Beckett on Film project is the re-literalising of the playwright's metaphors. On an obvious level, this leaves the text redundant; on another, it overprivileges it, when it is only one part of a theatrical whole of space, lighting, performance, silence etc.

So, for the viewer at the back of the class, the Reader and Listener are played by the same actor, Jeremy Irons. The continually roving camera undermines the Beckettian idea of inertia through solitude and grief, resulting in the film's one success, the white blaze of the table as it slowly protudes into view.


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