Lips together, teeth apart 

For the upcoming "Year of Beckett," theaters across Atlanta will stage Samuel Beckett's complete plays. I can't help but think of the 2006 Winter Olympic Games. Beckett productions, like winter sports, involve high degrees of difficulty against chilly, inhospitable climates. PushPush Theater's Samuel Beckett Short Play Festival could be the "opening ceremonies" as it tries to offer an accessible introduction to work that can be so grim and enigmatic, it becomes almost funny.

Beckett's first stage play, Act Without Words One, boils down the writer's bleak world-view to its essentials. A mute, white-faced figure finds himself unable to leave a bright, hot stage. A bottle of water dangles in view but remains out of reach, no matter how cleverly he attempts to use it. Filling in for Vincent Totorici was understudy Wade Tilton the night I saw the production. Tilton's deadpan demeanor perfectly serves Beckett's bleak slapstick, which doesn't so much lament life's unfairness as rejoice in it.

As if deliberately teasing the audience, PushPush presents Come and Go twice -- first in German, then in English -- although it's shadowy and ominous in any tongue. Three elderly women reminisce and gossip about each other in an enigmatic snapshot of friendship in the face of mortality. With its daisy chain of secrets, the play may be the closet Beckett ever came to "Desperate Housewives."

In Not I, a seemingly disembodied mouth (Park Krausen in tight spotlight and stark makeup) delivers a fragmented, nearly incomprehensible monologue. I doubt there's a "right" interpretation, but Not I felt like sifting through the scrambled thoughts of an elderly woman who just had a stroke and can't sort out her last memories or scrambled sense of self.

Throughout the run, PushPush will stage post-show talkbacks that feature short puppet-based Beckett adaptations, like Michael Haverty's delicate, relatively hopeful Night and Dreams. You can appreciate the playhouse's attempts to demystify Beckett, although pieces like Not I and Come and Go might resemble the nightmares of theater-phobics. Perhaps they should be compared to abstract art: Meanings are there if you dig for them.

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