Cascando and Other Short Dramatic Pieces

by Samuel Beckett
Grove, 79 pp., $1.75 (paper)

When it was first announced for publication, Samuel Beckett’s new collection, Cascando and Other Short Dramatic Pieces, bore the title Cascando and Other Residua. But as this may have suggested to the publisher such morbidphrases as “scraping the bottom of Beckett,” the title has now been changed. Still, the fact is that the present volume consists in good part of things written more than five years ago, and entirely of things already published in England—some of them published before that on the continent. The title piece, along with “Play” and “Words and Music,” was published in 1964 by Faber & Faber; the other three pieces were published in 1967, two by Faber & Faber, one by Calder & Boyars. The seventy-nine pages of the present chrestomathy do indeed represent a convenient gathering of Samuel Beckett’s recent activities; but they are neither very recent nor, in the crude, quantitative sense, very copious.

Actually, Beckett seems to be getting more and more gnomic as he goes on. Of the three most recent pieces, one (subtitled, appropriately, “Dramaticule”) covers just two-and-a-half pages, during which 125 words are spoken; another (“Film”) includes just a single spoken word—and that word is “ssh.” We have already had mimelets with no words at all. Mr. Beckett may in due course achieve the ultimate asceticism of a play with no words, no characters, no stage directions, no title—to the immense relief of the fellow who purchases ink for Grove Press. With Rauschenberg’s “Erased DeKooning” on the wall, and Cage’s “Four Minutes and Thirty Nine Seconds” of stereophonic silence on the hi-fi, the esthete of the future will be almost too burdened to appreciate Beckett’s ultimate reticence.

The situation isn’t without its comic aspects, as who would know better than Mr. Beckett? But these shouldn’t obscure the elegance of his angular, pedantic little drolleries. As his mind distills more and deeper insight into fewer words, sparser gestures, defter paradigms, Mr. Beckett comes ever closer to the ultimate word, a supremely aromatic monosyllable, a compression of all the thought and feeling and insight which he is absolutely destined to pronounce.

Cascando consists of a half-dozen curiously strong peppermints for a mini-stage, TV, radio, and film. Most of them deal with variants of a single theme, that of despairing, lonely old age; and in most of them the characters (or at least the speakers) are manipulated like marionettes to give an impression of mechanical lifelessness. Words often seem to be wrung from them like drops of water from a badly closed tap. Sometimes, unexpectedly, they pour forth a sudden spate of empty formulas, like Lucky’s famous thinking-exhibition in Godot, but then they are abruptly throttled into silence. Somewhere in the remote past there is usually a faint, half-forgotten recollection of something vaguely akin to happiness; words evoke it, though only weakly and for a moment, before it disappears in the fumbling of senile decay. Movement, intonations, lighting, and stage-details are all rigidly prescribed, so that the least ripple of expression,…

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