Beckett Catches Buster

Rob Magnuson Smith

Get up, go to work, kick tiny Buster across the stage. Chuck him into the orchestra pit. Don't cry when I smack you, says Daddy Joe--deadpan the audience and milk them for the laughs. Print the handbills, sell the tickets. Night after night, mold your vaudeville child into a sad-eyed clown. It's funny if you're human.

Beckett's humor doesn't allow room for laughter. His silences turn men into mutes. In Film the blinking wrinkled eye chases the whiskey sack of seventy as he scrabbles over the rubble. Run, Buster--shuffle inside your filthy coat. Take that briefcase home. Check your pulse at the stairs and climb. Slip into your apartment with your bird and one-eyed fish, your cat and rat dog in the basket. Lock the door, cloak the mirror, pull the shade. It doesn't matter, you won't escape. Beckett is coming.

Buster thinks he might be safe. He reaches for his briefcase, opens the clasp--but the animals are watching. Cover the birdcage. Throw out the dog and cat, drape the coat over the fish. Better retire to the rocking chair, where you can open the case in peace. Inside, the family photos momentarily appease. Stroke Mom and Dad, hold your infant face. Actors should stay in character--but Buster, poor pauper, is at the end of his dissembling, and Beckett arrives in his toothsome prime. As the eye circles, Buster rips each photo to pieces. Surely, now that Daddy's dead, you can sleep?

The head bobs, the eye closes in. Soon a man dies, Beckett asks--and how does he go on? Peel back the plaster, lick out the fear, nibble at Buster's placid face. In the rocking chair, the actor wakes. Against the wall stands an older version of himself. The son has become the angry father, complete with eye patch. Nap time is over, now get back to work. Hold that mute expression, Buster--wait for the last cut. A man your age can't expect cheap laughs. It is a fine performance for a human.