Magazine article The New Yorker

Chatterbox

Magazine article The New Yorker

Chatterbox

Article excerpt

CHATTERBOX

The Irish actress Lisa Dwan first performed "Not I," by Samuel Beckett, in 2005, and has returned to the fray many times. It is not a piece for the fainthearted. Recently, an audience member suffered a panic attack and had to leave halfway through the play, even though it lasts a matter of minutes, less than most theatres allow for intermission. All that can be seen from the auditorium is a single mouth, held in a spotlight and chattering without cease--or, at least, pausing only to shriek. New Yorkers may feel they can get that kind of thing for free on a daily basis, but Dwan, undaunted, is bringing "Not I" to town. BAM will put its money where her mouth is and stage the play--plus Beckett's "Footfalls" and "Rockaby"--as part of a one-woman hour-long trilogy, from October 7th through October 12th.

Back in summer, on a hot bright morning, Dwan put "Not I" through its paces at the Royal Court Theatre, in London. "I do it three times a day for a month before it opens," she said. A vertical board, eight feet high, was wheeled onto the stage. At head height was an oval gap, not unlike the openings through which customers at amusement parks used to poke their faces to be photographed. This was the unamusing kind, with the hole lined in black felt. "There's still some blood around the edges," Dwan said. "It cuts my ears."

She donned a padded turquoise blindfold; bared her teeth; stretched her mouth, chanting, "Hah! Hah!"; approached the board; wedged her arms under two metal rails screwed to it, to immobilize herself; and began.

Timed by a wristwatch, "Not I" lasted nine minutes flat. A short break, then another go: eight minutes thirty-five seconds, and consonant-perfect. A longer break, for chicken salad and a cup of coffee at the brasserie next door, then back to the theatre for a third attempt: eight twenty-five.Lisa Dwan

"Some of the really good ones are around eight minutes fifteen. I've done it in seven and a half," she said. She takes it at a lick unthinkable to previous residents of the role, such as Jessica Tandy, Julianne Moore, and Billie Whitelaw, Beckett's muse. "Some who've tried to learn it have gone mad," Dwan went on, with the cheerful assurance of one who is set on a calmer path. Edward Beckett, the playwright's nephew and the executor of his estate, came to watch her in 2005. …

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