Trevor Nunn’s ravishing production of “All That Fall” may completely change your opinion of Samuel Beckett.
In the intimate main space at 59E59 Theaters off-Broadway, Nunn and the incomparable Michael Gambon and Eileen Atkins are giving a master class not only in acting but in taking a work never meant for the stage and suffusing it with dramatic life.
We are in the Irish countryside. The company of eight is arranged at the perimeter of the stage.
Elderly, rheumatic Maddy (Atkins) has decided to meet her blind husband Dan (Gambon) at the train station. She’s bent with pain and accosted by various characters along the way -- a dung seller, a bicycling neighbor and a horse-racing fan in a broken-down “limousine” that he, with huffing comic difficulty, gets her into, easing her journey.
On the walk back with Dan the weather and the mood darken. Woven through the soundscape is Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden” quartet.
What you will remember is the magnificent interplay between Atkins, with her wheezy yet delicate gruffness, and Gambon, whose booming baritone is capable of heartbreak.
“All That Fall” was written as a radio play for the BBC and performed in 1957. Here we see a sound studio, with a web-work of microphones suspended from the ceiling over a nearly bare stage -- the perfect frame for the actors and their voices.
In just 75 minutes, they encompass comedy and tragedy with astonishing economy and acuity. It’s unforgettable.
Through Dec. 8 at 59E59 Theaters. Information: +1-212-279-4200; http://www.59e59.org. Rating: *****
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(Jeremy Gerard is the chief U.S. drama critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)