Here All Night

by Clinton Campbell

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday October 7, 2016

A promotional photo for "Here All Night"
A promotional photo for "Here All Night"  

Samuel Beckett is considered one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. When his work is performed well (such as Lisa Dwan's shattering "Beckett Trilogy" last year) it can be a revelatory experience offering insight in to humanity. But far more often people find his works to be dense, philosophical, and all but incomprehensible. The current production of "Here All Night" at ArtsEmerson does absolutely nothing to change that perception.

The production from Gare St Lazare Ireland is almost a caricature of what modern audiences imagine the mid-twentieth century bohemian art scene to be. A minimalist sculpture dominating the space, experimental music, everyone in black turtlenecks, rantings about life and begins praying that Audrey Hepburn will jump out to begin her dance number from "Funny Face."

"Here All Night" really is more contemporary chamber work than theater. The staging is entirely irrelevant. It could just as easily been performed in a concert hall. And in many ways, it would probably fare better.

The most interesting part of this production is the music composed by Paul Clark. While hard to define, it is the most graspable aspect. The trio -- John-Paul Gandy on piano, Christopher Allen on cello, and Mr. Clark on violin -- have a strong sense of ensemble even while each instrument seems to be composed in a different musical style. The three instruments seem to span the musical periods from late 1700s to the twentieth century.

The cello's sections seem rooted in the Romantic era of Brahms and Dvorak. Then the piano evolves into the Impressionism of Debussey and Ravel. And ultimately the violin reaches the atonality of the twentieth century and the experimental sounds of the modern and contemporary composers. Yet while each instrument seems to have their own "language" in solo passages, they also come together as ensemble.

In addition to the trio, there are also vocalists -- though they seem to provide nothing more than some tonal texture. The seven women, soprano soloist Melanie Pappenheim and a sextet, are entirely incomprehensible save for the repetition of the phase "We will be here all night." Beyond that they could just as just as easily sing "oooo" throughout. Ms. Pappenheim's voice is so anemic; she hardly ever breaks out over the trio. Any text assigned to her is lost.

As the actor in the piece, Conor Levett does a fine job delivering the text. And since it is the only text you can understand, it's a nice counterpoint to the music. However, he never seems emotionally attached to anything he is saying. He could probably recite the phone book with the same emotional depth.

If ever there was a production of Beckett that was "art for art's sake," this is it. If you are in to self-congratulatory intellectual elitism, you should not hesitate to see this production. For the rest of us, while they keep threatening that "we will be here all night," it is a hollow threat -- as hollow as the performance.

"Here All Night" runs through October 9 at the Emerson/Paramount Mainstage, 559 Washington Street, Boston, MA. For further information, visit the ArtsEmerson website.