Review: Beckett novels shrunk to savory appetizers in 'I'll Go On'

Irish actor Barry McGovern is once again gracing our shores with his Beckettian virtuosity. In 2012, he and Alan Mandell starred in a luminous revival of "Waiting for Godot" at the Mark Taper Forum. Now he's at the Kirk Douglas Theatre performing "I'll Go On," his solo show composed of selections of Samuel Beckett's trilogy of novels, "Molloy," "Malone Dies" and "The Unnamable."

McGovern has all the qualities of a superb Beckett interpreter. He relishes the comic brio even at its most scatological and possesses a voice that can draw out all the various hues of the verbal brilliance. Vehemence is clearly a pleasure for him: the angrier the expression, the greater the likelihood of releasing a heretical truth.

And he's willing to put his pliant body at the service of the Lear-like knowledge mordantly shared by Beckett that man is but a "poor, bare, forked animal."

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The stronger pre-intermission half of this barely 90-minute piece, directed by Colm Ó Briain, concentrates on the first part of "Molloy," in which an old cantankerous wretch lies in what was his mother's deathbed recounting the journey in which he was reunited with the woman he never forgave for giving birth to him.

In hilarious high dudgeon, he explains, "And I called her Mag because for me, without my knowing why, the letter "g" abolished the syllable Ma, and as it were spat on it, better than any other letter would have done."

There is a long riff on a system Molloy devises for sucking 16 stones distributed in his four pockets so that the same stone shall never be sucked consecutively. McGovern delivers this comic aria with the conviction and breath control of a Wagnerian diva.

The post-intermission section revolving around "Malone Dies" and "The Unnamable" is commandingly performed but severely truncated. It's not that the selection of texts by Gerry Dukes and McGovern isn't well chosen but that a production of this sort can only offer a foretaste of prose works as expansive as these.

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In whatever medium Beckett was writing, he rigorously interrogated the parameters of the form. The trilogy, beyond being a repository of scabrous wit, is a philosophical examination of what Beckett scholar Ruby Cohn called "the meaning of fiction, and the fiction of meaning." The books are meant to be savored, sentence by diabolical sentence, in private. But an actor as absurdistly adroit as McGovern will whet the appetite for the full reading experience of these landmark novels.

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'I'll Go On'

Where: Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City

When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sundays. (Please call for exceptions.) Ends Feb. 9.

Price: $20 to $55

Contact: (213) 628-2772 or

Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes including intermission.


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