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ATEST CASE for how a theater sees itself is Samuel Beckett. His plays, even the short ones as here in a program of "Beckett Shorts," make certain demands on a theater because they make absolutely no concessions to any other form of presentation. They are not, cannot be, movies in the guise of live theater, or TV shows in the guise of live theater. They are what they are, take it or leave. They involve actors, lights, space, words of course, and very little else.

For more on this subject of purity and the beneficial effects of the new Andrews Theatre, where the Irish Classical Company performs these Beckett plays, please see Page 3.

The Irish Classical passes the test, no reservations whatsoever. Director Paul Todaro's choice of plays, the overall look, his cast, all are about as good as you could hope for.

The plays are "Rough for Theatre II," about half an hour; "Footfalls," about half an hour, and "Catastrophe," under 15 minutes. The plays are performed in that order with breaks between but no intermission. Design is by Chris Cavanagh and Rohit Kapoor, lighting (crucial to the effect of the work) by Brian Cavanagh, costumes by Geraldine Duskin, sound by Tom Makar.

This is the Irish Classical's first Sunday program in its new theater, performances continuing Sundays only at 7 p.m.

"Rough for Theatre II" is a clear demonstration of Beckett's willingness to mix popular music-hall humor, made so much of in "Waiting for Godot," and his existential quandaries. Two clerks -- black suits, black bowlers -- sit at desks in an office at night, illuminated by small desk lamps. They could be early studies for Didi and Gogo in "Godot." A third, wordless figure shrouded in moonlight and darkness stands between them.

They appear to be investigating his life, or better, scrutinizing his very existence in the name of some undefined bureaucracy. They delve into testimonies about the subject (these, too, sound reminiscent of "Godot," especially Lucky's long speech). Paul Bargetto and John Warren play the two, and Michelle Gigante is the mysterious figure.

Lighting plays a subtle role, and also a comic one. Beckett mixes the comic and serious quite openly. Two main burlesque episodes involve, in one case, the desk lamps going off and on unbidden, and in the other, an investigation of a bird cage covered in black cloth.

Warren and Bargetto are very funny, and very serious, rather like Beckett. A single line from the play pretty much sums the tenor of the work. One says to the other: "Oh, you'd be the death of me if I were sufficiently alive."

Gigante is the lone actor in the second, "Footfalls." She is dressed in a tattered gown or dressing gown perhaps. Her hair is white above stark staring eyes. This is a highly structured work. At a high pinging bell she shuffles along a lighted path running east and west exactly nine steps and returns nine, and then again. At another bell she repeats this on one diagonal, and at another bell on the other diagonal. Always it is nine steps in one direction, nine on the return. In the fourth blackout she disappears. The north-south path lights up anyway, the bell sounds, but the space remains empty.

She looks and sometimes speaks at the end of a path or in pauses along a path. Her first words are, "Mother? Mother?" In fragments the play probes the relationship of mother and daughter. At first the mother's disembodied voice responds, but along the way, eventually, the mother's voice is heard no more and the dialogue, then monologue, is entirely located in the mind of the woman on stage. Of this we hear fractions that, with some effort, assemble into a whole.

The third, and shortest, piece is more like mordant burlesque in its entirety. Three people are on stage: Bargetto is a director of some sort, huge cigar in one fist, wide dark hat, over-the-shoulder coat, tyrannical gleam in his eye. Gigante is his assistant, dressed in what could be a white lab coat, glasses, pencil shoved in her hair. She notes down his pre-emptive orders and carries them out. The third figure, Warren, is a shivering wreck standing on a low pedestal that revolves slowly center stage.

With lighting, subtracting some rags, and adjusting the man's posture, the director and his assistant manage to create an even unlovelier spectacle. The resultant catastrophe, dehumanized humanity, receives enthusiastic applause. It's a one-joke skit, revealing of Beckett's window on the world.

Beckett Shorts

Rating:**** 1/2

Three short plays by Samuel Beckett ("Catastrophe," "Footfalls" and "Rough for Theatre II"), directed by Paul Todaro for the Irish Classical Theatre, featuring John Warren, Michelle Gigante and Paul Bargetto (above).

Performances continue Sundays at 7 p.m., through March 14. Andrews Theatre, 625 Main St. (853-4282).

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