Soldiering On: A tantalizing performance of wit and absurdity

From Oct. 30 to Nov. 1 and Nov. 6 to 8, the Wheaton College Department of Theatre presented Soldiering On: An Evening of Plays by Samuel Beckett and Eugene Ionesco in Weber Theatre. Directed by David Fox, Professor of Theatre, the play featured a collection of three short plays by Beckett – Footfalls, Act Without Words II, and Come and Go – followed by Ionesco’s The Bald Soprano.

The evening opened with Footfalls, a moving and chilling short play with lyrical quality. Throughout the play, a distressed, ghostly woman named May, played by Schuyler Evans ’15, paces slowly back and forth, always taking nine steps before she turns. The stage was dimly lit, drawing the audience to the only visible figure, May. Her dying mother, voiced by Erika McCormack ’15, talks to May from the next room. May’s old clothing and general appearance and behavior gives the play a phantasmagoric atmosphere, further enhanced by her mother’s chilling voice from the darkness. 

Act Without Words II is, quite plainly, a play without words – a mime play. It tells a story of two men, each of whom are in a different sack. A long pole used to prod one bag at a time causes the man in that respective bag to emerge. One of the men is unkempt and dejected, played by Sam Hickson ’17. His constant sighs, furrowed brow, and unhappy demeanor perhaps reminded the audience of how one feels waking up after a busy weekend night. The other man, played by Sven Wiberg ’15, is earnest and animated, always with a smile on his face — quite the opposite attitude of his partner. The audience witnesses these two men perform similar daily routines, but with extremely different perspectives, until they go back into their sacks.

Beckett’s Come and Go is about three girls — childhood friends — who sit close together on a bench. The three women, played by Linnea Wilhjelm ’15, Anastasia Tammen ’16, and Meghan Dorian ’16, are dressed in sun hats and long dresses. During their conversation, each girl rises from her seat, and in her absence, the remaining two girls share a secret about her. At the end of the play, all three girls hold hands, though none of the secrets are ever revealed.

The evening concluded with a performance of The Bald Soprano, a play about the Smiths, played by Alex Butcher-Nesbitt ’15 and Evans, who invite another couple, the Martins, played by McCormack and Wiberg, over to their house for dinner. Throughout the play, everyone engages in nonsensical conversation by relating random stories. During their evening, the group is joined by both the Smiths’ maid, played by Amanda Mullaney ’15, and a fireman, played by Hickson. Both characters jump straight into the witty and amusing banter, creating a whimsical atmosphere laced with confusion. As the evening develops, the stories and conversation build up speed, leading to a conclusion of quick, loud, alliterating toungue-twisters.  

Though all of these short plays seem to have no apparent plot or central theme, they can be interpreted in a multitude of ways. Each play had its own unique form, and even without being able to clearly grasp the plays’ meanings, one can still enjoy and appreciate them for their wit, innovation, and individual approach. 

This collection of plays was certainly not your average theatre-going adventure. It was exactly these unconventional characteristics of the plays, combined with outstanding performances from the actors, that made Wheaton’s performance of Beckett and Ionesco’s plays so enjoyable. Congratulations to the cast and crew that played a part in the memorable experience that was Soldiering On.