Bill Irwin states at the outset that he is not a scholar of Samuel Beckett, yet his 90 minute exploration of the Irish writer‘s words belies the statement. You come away with a greater understanding of the impossible-to-fully-understand Beckett.

During Irwin’s thought-provoking performance I was put in mind of another wonderful one-man show exploring the complexities of a playwright, Ian McKellen‘s “Acting Shakespeare.” In both cases the performers approached the challenge from the actor‘s perspective and despite each of their assertions, an enjoyably academic process unfolded.

Irwin brings a far more physical manifestation to his production. Irwin is steeped in the art of the clown, which is initially anachronistic when approaching Beckett. But once the dense thicket of Beckett‘s words begin to be interpreted by Irwin, the clown‘s mannerisms amplify the proceedings. 

Decades ago I saw Irwin perform in “Fool Moon” and was left in stitches because of the sidesplitting humor. Here the humor is far more subtle but enjoyable nonetheless. Understandably the most time spent by Irwin “On Beckett” relates to “Waiting for Godot.” After discussing the proper pronunciation of the character who never shows up, Irwin recounts the various times he has performed the play, most notably with Robin Williams and Steve Martin, and also with Nathan Lane.

Irwin moved through a variety of subtle costume changes, mostly revolving around the all-important bowler hat. At one point he dons a pair of spectacles reminiscent of Harold Lloyd.

Throughout Irwin’s well-written 90 minute play we see how he’s drawn to Beckett‘s words. They alternately haunt and humor Irwin.

Irwin is the recipient of MacArthur, Guggenheim, Fulbright and National Endowment of the Arts Fellowships. Rarely do you get the cerebral and the physical, which Irwin commands admirably. The first is commonly known as a “Genius Grant.” Irwin he admits has yet to read all of Beckett‘s writings; but Irwin remains enthralled, both as a student and as a teacher, whether he can help it or not. 

Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.