nytheatre.com review by Michael Mraz
January 12, 2009
Samuel Beckett has always left his audience to ponder the meaning of things. Sometimes he even leaves us to ponder the meaning of the meaningless (a la Waiting for Godot, his most famed piece). In his novella–turned-one-man-show First Love, presented by the Irish troupe Gare St. Lazare Players as part of the Public's Under the Radar Festival, he leaves us to decipher one of life's more slippery topics—love—with his signature dark ambiguity. True to good Beckettian experience, the Players' 75-minute production, which rests on the shoulders of the hilariously awkward Conor Lovett, doesn't give us an answer on love; it puts it in our hands to figure out.
First Love's style of prose is like a stream-of-consciousness coming out of the storyteller's mouth, sprinkled with comic asides and acidic, witty commentary on life. The narrator, a boy in his twenties, begins to weave a story out of his seemingly random and, at times, macabre musings on life, death, his father, and cemeteries. What unfolds is a hilarious tale of first love with a girl whom he meets on a park bench, after being kicked out of his house. His frantic, confused experience after she takes him home makes a full trip from hilarity to empty sadness as their relationship develops and eventually dies.
Conor Lovett handles Beckett's dark wit with amazing skill and makes his 75-minute rant engaging and hilarious. By infusing well-placed awkward pauses and a nervously reserved nature into his narration, he nails the humor in points when Beckett's story crosses the line from dark to macabre or "a bit inappropriate" to hilariously vulgar. director-production designer Judy Hegarty Lovett (working with Conor Lovett's own lighting design) does a lovely job of keeping things simple and allowing Beckett's story and Conor's character to stand front and center and just talk to us.
First Love can be an extremely depressing view on love, depending on how you view it. It seems to chronicle love's downfall, through its cynical depiction of events. But Lovett and the Gare St. Lazare Players manage to sift out another meaning at the heart of Beckett's piece: Sometimes love is not grand, sweeping, and romantic. Sometimes, it just is; it just exists, plain and simple—for no discernable reason. And just like this production of First Love, you sometimes have to revel in the simplicity of such a complicated, challenging thing.