Blame it on Beckett
Written by John Morogiello
Directed by Jackob G. Hofmann
"Dramaturgy jobs don't just sprout up—like weedy interns."
Heidi Bishop (Lori Gardner), smart, young, well intentioned, idealistic and ambitious, finds her way into the stuffy literary department of a regional non-profit theater. She has just earned her MFA in dramaturgy, and hence, according to Jim Foley (Warren Kelley), the theater's jaded, middle-aged dramaturge, is "completely unemployable." But, after making what Jim disparagingly calls "kissy face" at general manager Big Mike Braschi (Mark Doherty)—who is exactly like his name suggests—she lands a coveted, unpaid internship reading through Jim's piles of unsolicited second-rate scripts. She's eager to learn from Jim, and they grow fond of each other in an expletive-filled, pseudo-parental relationship. It's not Jim's work that she likes, however. It's his job.
"This is the sort of play small, urban theaters drool over; contemporary, small cast, no set, maybe the occasional gay character," Jim says in reference to a script he pulls out of his pile of 3,000 for Heidi. For the audience, however, the implication of this statement stretches to the very play they are watching. John Morogiello's new dramatic comedy with the Abingdon Theatre Company, Blame it on Beckett at the Dorothy Strelsin Theatre (through October 30) is a witty parody of the non-profit theater company that produces the play itself. As ambitions are entangled with personal passions, as a sexual liaison (or two) dictates departmental rearrangement, the performance provides an intimate look into the world of non-profit theater that supposedly champions the new work of American playwrights with a stream of mostly-tasteful self-reference. There's a ton of pithy industry humor and a prodding, formulaic breakdown of how non-profits structure their performance lineups and suck up to subscribers.
Aside from an excessively cheeky callback to the title in one of the last lines, Samuel Beckett seemingly has very little to do with Blame it on Beckett. Jim blames Beckett for the "death of plot," the proliferation of bad playwrights and the stacks of bad, derivative plays that line the walls of the literary office. What Jim wants is strong, tried and true dramatic structure—he calls himself "the great white structure hunter." This two-act play itself reflects as much with conventionality, standard exposition and tidy resolution. Yet at the same time there is something very Beckettian about the symmetry of the two acts and the consistently self-referential meta-theatricality. Many misinterpret Beckett's work to be structure-less; even his 25-second play Breath, which critics often say dances the fine line between sheer brilliance and utter pretentiousness, has a rising action, climax and falling action. Beckett masked structure with subtlety and nuance; Morogiello makes it blatantly apparent.
(Photo: Anthony J. Merced)