Beckett in Benghazi

Beckett in Benghazi has an intriguing premise: an indie theater company is rehearsing a revival of Samuel Beckett's Endgame on September 11, 2012, the night that an attack was carried out on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. The director decides to re-invent the production by setting the play in Benghazi and populating it with two Libyan revolutionaries/terrorists (occupying the main roles of Hamm and Clov) and two American soldiers (Nagg and Nell in Beckett's original; for a good plot summary of Endgame, check out Sparknotes).

At least one of the actors points out that Endgame has very little to do with modern geopolitics, but the director, Judy, is determined to see her idea through. The first half of the play introduces us to the actors (Abe, Reed, Kevin, and Angie) and the stage manager (Lauren); their interpersonal struggles—notably a romantic triangle involving Reed, Angie, and Lauren—unfold in counterpoint to the frantic and massive restaging effort that Judy is imposing on her company. This section of the play culminates in a long scene where Judy leads the group in a visualization exercise in which, at the script's high water mark, Abe delivers a lovely monologue ruminating on the meaning and significance of Endgame, the play that we will see mangled in the next portion of the show.

For Judy's vision is, not surprisingly, pretty terrible: a long sequence depicting much of the disastrous first night of her adaptation plays like a parody of bad experimental/avant-garde impulses that will be familiar to regular indie theatergoers. (It also feels like it contains a lot of inside jokes for the Less Than Rent crowd.) A coda wraps the story up.

It is, unfortunately, not a satisfying play, though the makings of perhaps more than one are present here. Playwright Ben Diserens seems to want to accomplish more than he probably should be attempting in a single evening, touching on themes of shoestring indie theater production, sensationalism/exploitation (particularly on the part of Judy, who appears eager to throw artistic integrity out the window in her quest for notoriety and/or fame), the politics of the Benghazi attack and its aftermath, the nature of absurdist theater in general and Beckett's play in particular, and the need for parity between men and women in contemporary theater. They're all worth talking about, but they bump up against each other in Beckett in Benghazi and so the big points that I think Diserens is hoping to make often get muddled.

The play is never uninteresting, though, and reveals talent and intelligence in its creator, whose acting work in the last Less Than Rent piece, Words, Razors and the Wounded Heart, was exemplary. The acting is all fine here, too; under the solid direction of James Presson, Julie Voshell, Adam Weppler, Brendan McDonough, Rachel B. Joyce, and especially Patrick Dooley (who, as Abe, has the best material) deliver smart, well-thought-out performances. Cory Asinofsky's fight choreography, used sparingly, is excellent. And the LTR signature dance breaks, choreographed by Jennifer Delac are a hoot.

This is the wrap-up of Less Than Rent's first full season in residence at Horse Trade, and they've brought audiences an impressively diverse and ambitious lineup of original work. I can't wait to see what these young artists will cook up for us next.