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In "Here All Night," ArtsEmerson Brings a New Twist to Beckett

In a manner of speaking, Here All Night, the production ArtsEmerson is presenting on the Paramount Mainstage October 5-9, was written by Samuel Beckett. All the words are his, he wrote the lyrics to the songs, even some of the music itself was composed by the Irish writer.

But the direction and sense of cohesion of the show comes from the collective minds of Gare St. Lazare Ireland, a theatrical company known for its interpretations of Beckett’s work, which began pulling together a concert of sorts of Beckett’s words and music, and shaped it into a theatrical piece.

“It became, I won’t say a story, I won’t say a linear narrative,” said Gare St. Lazare co-artistic director and performer Conor Lovett, “but there is a strong thematic arc in it.”

He, co-artistic director Judy Hegarty Lovett, composer Paul Clark, and traditional Irish fiddler Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh combed through all of Beckett’s work in search of references to music, Lovett said. Beckett was a music lover and piano player, and wrote snippets of music within some of his work.

As they collected the references, they began to see a pattern. Lovett said the show was almost called Love and Permutations.

“The two overriding themes would be of romantic relationships in Beckett, and also relationships after the romance, if you like – companionship and the need we have for companionship,” he said. “The other element would be permutations, which would be this sort of struggle in Beckett to deal with head and heart. What is the logical thing to do, and what is the thing you end up doing? Beckett plays a lot with that in his work.”

Here All Night, based on excerpts from the novels Watt and The Unnamable, and the short story, “First Love,” features Lovett speaking Beckett’s words, and soprano Melanie Pappenheim singing them. Ó Raghallaigh, who normally accompanies on fiddle, couldn’t make the trip, so a fiddler from Virginia, Cleek Schrey, will take his place on stage with a chamber orchestra.

The performance works on many levels, Lovett said, whether the audience is well acquainted with Beckett or getting a first taste.

“If you’ve never heard of Beckett, you come along and say, ‘This is cool, I like the music, I like the text, there’s a lot of humor in it, plain human feeling,” he said. “For people who know their Beckett already, it’s just another angle by a company who knows their Beckett. I think we were as curious as anybody to see what we would come up with, having spent 20 years [performing his work].”

This is not the first trip Gare St. Lazare has made to an ArtsEmerson stage. They performed an adaptation of Moby Dick in 2011, and in 2013 they did Beckett’s Waiting for Godot.

Here All Night, which makes its New England premiere at ArtsEmerson, is touring with support from Culture Ireland to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising.

“They’re using Irish culture as a way of acknowledging what has happened in the 100 years since that time, and Beckett certainly was a towering figure of that century,” Lovett said.

ArtsEmerson Co-Artistic Director David Dower said this visit is “perfectly timed.”

“There is a powerful, cleansing, meditative space at the center of the work that will offer a welcome break from the noise and tensions of the election season. It reminds us what connects us at a time we seem to be coming apart,” Dower said.

Lovett said as immersed in Beckett as he and Gare St. Lazare have been for the past two decades, they never try to telegraph to audiences what they think Beckett was trying to say. Nor does Lovett feel tempted to find any relevance in Beckett to today’s events.

For him, it’s about the craftsmanship of Beckett’s writing — his “impeccable” use of language –and his great humanity.

“He was just curious about the way we are,” Lovett said, “and the way we do things, and the way we relate to people, and the way we’re faced with such difficulty, and at the same time, we find such laughter and humor in everything.”

As a companion piece and a backdrop to the show, Hello, Sam Redux, 2016, a multimedia installation by sculptor Brian O’Doherty, will be shown immediately following the Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evening performances of Here All Night, as well as from noon to 5:00 pm on Friday, October 7. All viewings of the installation will be free and open to the public.

Hello, Sam, a suspended effigy framed by a rectangular rope frame, touches on themes of death, resurrection, mourning, and celebration. When Hegarty Lovett saw the installation in the National Gallery of Ireland in 2011, she thought it was a “really good, strong meeting of the minds between Brian [O’Doherty] and Beckett,” Lovett said. Gare St. Lazare used the piece at a Beckett festival in London in May. 

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