Gab Cody and Rita Reis offer a feminist twist with Quantum's 'Fat Beckett'
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A funny thing happened on the way to the comedy "Fat Beckett" making its way to the stage tonight. There wasn't a whole lot of waiting after the play jumped from Point Park University to a Bricolage reading to a Quantum Theatre outpost in Lawrenceville.
In Samuel Beckett's paragon of existentialism, "Waiting for Godot," two characters must pass the time while the unseen title character, who would seem to have the answer to all their questions, maintains his absence. "Fat Beckett" is in the spirit of Beckett's men who wait, only it's infused with the feminist spirit of its collaborators, Gab Cody and Rita Reis.
The new work takes its cue from Mr. Beckett's absurdist roots, but don't call it a parody, writer Ms. Cody said. "I always like to think of the way that I write as an homage to a genre," she said, referencing "Crush the Infamous Thing," a take on 1930s screwball comedies written with her husband, Sam Turich.
"Or a response? An inspiration?" asked Ms. Reis.
"Yes, that's right," Ms. Cody said. "Parody inevitably exists within it, but that's not what we're setting up to do. Does that seem fair to you guys?"
Ms. Reis and Mr. Turich, the director, nod from their seats at a table placed at what will be stage right for "Fat Beckett." Ms. Cody said she and Ms. Reis "had immediate complicity" when they met through a Point Park University graduate program that included studies of Beckett works.
Women are nonexistent in the world of "Godot," which was one of the inspirations for taking a feminist point of view.
"I was taking a long walk -- which we laughed about later, because Beckett is famous for being a person who took very long walks and I am a person who takes very long walks -- but I met Rita and I said, 'We should do a play called "Fat Beckett," because it would be a subversion of the fact that women can't play Godot,' " Ms. Cody said. "Fat would be woman, like the pregnant, and the round ..."
"And the abundance as opposed to the scarcity at the time in Beckett," Ms. Reis said.
Photographs of the playwright also show a lean man with hollow cheekbones, as opposed to the "fat" of the title, one of the many ways the new script plays with facts and language. In another example, the two main characters of "Godot" are replaced by female characters who are travelers.
"We thought very deeply about what was happening in the world, what was inspiring Beckett, never knowing of course, but what he was drawing from the existential provocations that were urging him on," Ms. Cody said. "We talked a lot about that, and what the female perspective must be. And we landed really early on on the idea that they must be traveling, because they are women, and they are not going to wait around."
They journey through time and space in search of their beloved goat, Biquette.
The road to Quantum was paved through the graduate program at Point Park, where the women were inspired by studies that included Beckett works, commedia dell'arte, movement and philosophy. Ms. Cody, a playwright, actor and stand-up comic, discovered a kindred spirit in Ms. Reis, an actress who came to Pittsburgh by way of Portugal and Luxembourg. Both like to laugh, and both speak fluent French, as did Mr. Beckett, who wrote "Godot" in French before translating it to English. "Fat Beckett" progressed with the guidance of adviser Robin Walsh and the support of the university, allowing the women to work with designer Kellan Andersen early in the play's development.
Then came an April reading at Bricolage's In the Raw, an incubator for new works. Quantum artistic director Karla Boos was invited and "I laughed my head off," she said. Ms. Boos felt the show was far enough along to fit into her season of mostly new plays.
Here they all are a little more than six months after that reading in an old schoolhouse at 4830 Hatfield St. in Lawrenceville, a space on loan from Joe Edlestein of Wylie Holdings, a developer in the neighborhood where "Fat Beckett" is taking root.
A leafless tree lit by paper lanterns and an entryway with a curtain for shadow puppets are among the signs that there's a comedy waiting to happen.
The luxury of experimentation that first inspired "Fat Beckett" has continued in this space -- luxury being a strange word within seemingly ancient, peeling walls, which Mr. Turich has dubbed "crispies."
"Quantum always provides a luxurious environment for artists -- even if you're performing in a burned-out decrepit building," Ms. Cody said.
"Karla and I had a conversation shortly before rehearsal started in which she encouraged me to explore, more than decide, throughout the process," Mr. Turich continued. "When we started, I assumed it was going to be a typical conversation that a director has with a producer, which is [deep voice], 'Make sure you have everything worked out ahead of time.' Karla insisted we not make decisions. It took me a while to believe it and I finally said, 'You're actually telling me I get to keep exploring?' That in itself is such a luxury."
Mr. Turich has been a director about town who also works with high schools through Quantum's education program, and he has worked often with his wife. Ms. Reis is glad to have him aboard as well.
"He has this level of Americans who have a lot of culture ..." Ms. Reis said.
"He's much like yogurt or buttermilk," chimes in Ms. Cody, who added that he's a "comic genius."
"A cultured comic genius," Mr. Turich said, laughing.
"He's a yogurt smarty pants," Ms. Cody said.
"A yogurt smoothie of comedy," he said.
The walls seem to crackle anew with the sound of laughter and carpenters at work. The building, like the two women who will take the place of Beckett's Vladimir and Estragon, has character to spare. There are lots of in jokes in "Fat Beckett," which includes some French dialogue. But don't worry, the trio assures theatergoers. The main idea here is to provoke laughter, which should be immediate when Ms. Cody and Ms. Reis arrive on stage in costumes that, well, enhance their curves.
The collaborative effort that has brought "Fat Beckett" to this point has Ms. Reis almost giddy with delight. She seems particularly thrilled about making decisions about her costume, another luxury of working for a company that encourages experimentation.
They didn't want to give away the nature of the costumes, however, so that the sight gag will work both as a surprise and an assurance that there will be no waiting for comedy.
"I think it is advantageous to put the audience in the frame of mind for the trip you'll be taking," Ms. Cody said. "And if you tell everyone you're going to Disney World and you end up in a gulag, there will be some disappointment."
First Published December 1, 2011 12:00 am