THE STAGE IS SET with a wooden chair, pulled up to a wooden writing desk. On the desk, a heavy bound text rests, open. A bare yellow bulb hangs suspended from somewhere in the dark. The bulb dims to create an intimate sphere, and suddenly a figure appears at its edge with an awkward tread, pausing long enough to become solid, modeled into sharp planes by the overhead light. Joseph Chaikin sits down at the desk, turns the first page, and begins.

Starting with its slippery title, Samuel Beckett's Texts for Nothing consists of a layer of text on top of text about texts. There is the written text, "a murmur flowing like a single endless word" through that conscious space between waning life and approaching death. "I wanted a story for myself," Beckett's character laments, "where life alone was enough... my past has thrown me out." There is the text of personality: Chaikin is a celebrated director/performer and a revolutionary of the experimental theater movement of the '60s and '70s. And there is the text of the live performance working in counterpoint with the text of a pre-recorded performance.

In 1981, Chaikin adapted Samuel Beckett's Texts for presentation at the New York Shakespeare Festival. Three years later, he suffered an aphasic stroke, a condition that disrupted his ability to communicate. (The Greek "aphasia" means, literally, "without language.") Eventually, Chaikin regained his speech sufficiently to perform again. By re-staging Texts for Nothing, this time layering the sound of his current disability against the recorded sound of his 1981 performance, he translates the stubbornly cryptic Beckett via a kind of vocal gesturing.

In fact, the silent prologue would be the first and only visually striking moment of the performance; the rest belongs to language and the sound of language. In Texts, the body works as an echo chamber (in Beckett's words, an "ivory dungeon") and language carries the action. Chaikin simply strips the stage and lends Beckett his voice, his graceless syntax, and odd, lifting pitch. The choice won't spur a theatrical revolution as Chaikin did in the '60s, but Texts for Nothing is still a quiet coup d'état.

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