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Samuel Beckett Returns to Santa Monica This Week
By Jorge Casuso
July 5, 2017 -- Samuel Beckett's often despairing take on life may not seem a good fit for sunny, carefree Santa Monica, but the late Nobel-winning author seems to have gained a foothold in the beachside city.
The odd-ball relationship continues Sunday with the Los Angeles premiere of composer Michael Roth’s string quartet setting for Beckett's 1965 prose piece "Imagination Dead Imagine" at 4 p.m. at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica.
The composition, which received its world premiere last month in San Diego, is presented by Red Hen Press during an event that also features readings by poets Brendan Constantine and t’ai freedom ford.
Beckett gave Roth permission to set the terse 1,100-word piece to music in a hand-scrawled letter dated January 20, 1980.
"Years ago, while in London," Roth recalled, "over coffee and kit-kat bars, Martin Esslin, author of 'The Theatre of the Absurd' and one of Samuel Beckett’s close friends, suggested that if I really wanted to set some Beckett to music, and I really did, I should just write to him.
"Seemed simple enough, so I wrote to Beckett care of his publisher in Paris. And to my amazement, a month or so later, Samuel Beckett wrote back."
Thirty years in the making, Roth's composition pits a string quartet against an onslaught of recorded voices manipulated by technology.
“The piece is as much as anything a music/theatre piece -- even an opera -- for String Quartet and recorded voices," Roth has said. "Ideally the audience witnesses the Quartet hearing and instructed by the recorded voices and reacting as they see fit.”
Sunday's performance of "Imagination Dead Imagine" featuring Quartet Nouveau is the third production of Beckett's works in Santa Monica in the past 15 months.
In April 2016, three short Beckett plays -- "Not I," "Footfalls" and "Rockaby" -- were performed by actress Lisa Dwan at the Broad Stage ("Three Beckett Plays to be Performed at Santa Monica College's Broad Stage," April 4, 2016).
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