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‘Act Without Words’ makes Beckett accessible

"Act Without Words (I and II)" is the kind of gem you hope to find at a Samuel Beckett Festival. It’s an exhilarating mime full of humor, thought and spectacle — in fact, an amazing amount of spectacle considering that it’s being performed on a tiny stage in repertory with nine other shows.

Forget all the intellectual stuff you’ve heard about Beckett. Lionheart Theatrics’ premiere production makes the Irish writer so accessible that I can’t imagine anyone not having a good time.

The first 20-minute vignette gives us a man (Jim Slonina) who is literally thrown into the desert by some unseen force and is unable to leave. Of course, directors and designers Jim Slonina and Robin Barcus Slonina place the action just outside Sin City. The mounds of sand are punctuated by a neon palm tree, and, in the distance, a welcome-to-Vegas sign. The expert visuals give the show an animation feel.

A bottle of water appears from the sky, just beyond the poor guy’s reach. Other objects later descend as well, and for a while it looks as if our hero might be able to conquer the elements. But hey, this is Beckett. Nature or God or godlessness never allows man complete control over anything.

Slonina has the precision and control of a master mime, but he also has an actor’s sensibility. Every thought seems to register on his face. You never get the sense that this is only about movement.

The second 25-minute piece finds us staring at two sacks that each contain a man. When they emerge (separately), we see how they each deal in very different ways with the mundane tasks of daily life. The actors — Slonina again, and the remarkable Marcello del Giudice — somehow make the routines of brushing teeth and getting dressed not just watchable but mesmerizing.

The evening is nonstop funny, but the directors’ major achievement is that they have humanized these characters. We always feel, in both situations, that something very fundamental is at stake.

You have your choice though: You can enjoy the production for its exploration of existential themes, or you can just sit back and laugh. It’s a multilayered show that’s rich enough to offer that option.

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at DelValle@aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.

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