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The Lost Ones

by Rich See

A kiss makes an indescribable sound.
---Samuel Beckett

Scena Theatre has brought Washington metro area audiences an intellectual challenge in the form of Carter Jahncke's one-man adaptation of Samuel Beckett's 1970 prose fiction piece The Lost Ones. The play's language and pace is somewhat hypnotic -- even if you don't know what Beckett is talking about, which actually may be very much the case.

Hailed by scholars and critics as a modernist, post-modernist, absurdist, genius, and enigma, Beckett won a Nobel-prize in 1969 and was almost 50 years old before one of his plays was produced for the stage. A man who loved silence and believed in the adage "less is more", especially when it came to dialogue, Beckett's work is characterized by an austerity of word, a cadence of delivery, and an ambiguity of meaning that allows the reader or audience the opportunity to place their own interpretations upon his writings. As if he is providing not so much a blank slate, but a textured canvas upon which to run wild with your own shadings of feeling about life. His works require an intensity of listening that we as a society seldom apply to our own lives or to our social interactions. It's precisely for this vagueness and need for attention that he is both loved and feared.

Scena workshopped its current production during their 1999 Beckett Festival and it has since been produced at festivals in Berlin and Slovenia. In The Lost Ones Beckett discusses 200 seekers and non-seekers living in a universe that is a flattened cylinder fifty meters round and eighteen meters high. Exactly one body per square meter of space. It's as if he has put the human condition under a highly magnified microscope. Kind of like an ant farm of people. And within this cylinder, his 200 "ants" explore the niches and crevices above them via the use of ladders upon which they ascend and descend in meticulous harmony and isolation.

Director Robert McNamara has picked the perfect locale for his production. With seating for only 15 adventurous souls, he has placed The Lost Ones in an artistic deprivation chamber -- the Warehouse Theater's little used "brick and concrete box theatre". It's a space that much resembles the cylinder Carter Jahncke is discussing during the 51 minute performance. McNamara's set consists of only two piles of sand, a wooden box, a pail, a couple of dozen little statues, and two ladders leaning against the walls; the director's musical selections harken back to Paris in the early 20th century. Michael Stepowany assisted with the prison-like lighting while Richard Montgomery designed the sculptures used to bring the 200 "lost ones" to life.

The piece's adaptor and solitary actor Carter Jahncke keeps you captivated with his words and the almost sumptuous delivery of his dialogue. Dressed in ragged clothes, he seems determined to take his time on stage as he relishes Beckett's spirit. In addition, he brings the writing's humor to surface and incorporates sudden bursts of energy which bring you back to the present before sweeping you once again into Beckett's austere world of searching for nothing.

While not a production for everyone, Scena has delivered a thought provoking work that could have you thinking for days. However, those prone to claustrophobia might want to sit near the door.

The Lost Ones
by Samuel Beckett adapted by Carter Jahncke
Directed by Robert McNamara
with Carter Jahncke
Set Design: Robert McNamara
Lighting Design: Michael Stepowany and Robert McNamara
Sound Design: Robert McNamara
Sculpture Design: Richard Montgomery
Running Time: 51 minutes with no intermission
A production of Scena Theatre
Warehouse Theater Next Door, 1019 Seventh Street, NW
Telephone: 703-684-7990
THU - SAT @7, SUN @5; $25
Opening 03/15/04, closing 04/04/04
Reviewed by Rich See based on 03/15/04 performance

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