Bill Irwin is not only a great clown but he has an inquiring mind as well and he puts both to excellent use in his “On Beckett,” in which he explores works of the renowned playwright Samuel Beckett. Irwin has conceived the show, which he performs with his amazing ingenuity and flair.
Just listening to his introduction is a treat, even before he gets to Beckett substance. He sets the stage for what we are about to experience, and it doesn’t take long for us to get a sampling of his flexible body and clown-like moves that are a delight. To see Irwin in action is to appreciate his wonderfully entertaining ability to morph into a variety of hilarious positions.
Irwin makes a point of explaining that performing in the clown department is both an association with his views on Beckett, but also as a means of escaping from the complicated works of the playwright.
Those knowledgeable about Beckett realize that his enigmatic writings invite endless interpretation. Irwin starts his exploration by plunging into excerpts from Beckett’s “Texts for Nothing.” But the weightiest portion of the show is what he ultimately does with Beckett’s masterwork, “Waiting for Godot.”
This includes an amusing discussion of how “Godot” is pronounced here and abroad. It is amazing how much fun Irwin can mine from taking off on the differences.
You have to see Irwin. Trying to describe what he does adequately is all but impossible. When he recites lines from “Waiting for Godot,” there is a mix of eloquence, as if he were an actor playing a role, and applying his clown talents to illuminate the text.
At one point Irwin has a helper, young and talented Finn O’Sullivan, who is an eighth grade student and plays the never-arriving Godot’s messenger. Irwin makes certain that the lad gets a proper share of applause when introduced.
“On Beckett” lasts one hour and 30 minutes, which may prove to be among the most delightful time periods you have spent. Irwin is dazzlingly at the height of his skills. His physical clowning, wit, and agile use of props such as hats and costumes are a joy to behold. In one bit he provides the impression of an automated lectern going up and down. The lectern doesn’t move. His body does the work.
Seeing Irwin may make you want to explore Beckett further. It may also make you want to long for more of Bill Irwin. At the Irish Repertory Theater, 132 West 22nd Street. Reviewed October 15, 2018.