McGovern in bravura performance of Beckett works

I'll Go On Play adapted by Gerry Dukes and Barry McGovern from the novels ``Molloy,'' ``Malone Dies,'' and ``The Unnamable,'' by Samuel Beckett. Directed by Colm 'O Briain. Starring Mr. McGovern. ``Well, shall we go?'' asks Vladimir of his fellow tramp Estragon in the final moments of ``Waiting for Godot.'' Replies Estragon: ``Yes, let's go.'' But according to Samuel Beckett's stage direction, ``They do not move.'' The contradiction occurs somewhat differently at the end of ``I'll Go On,'' the Beckett adaptation at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater. ``You must go on,'' insists the desperate Molloy, ``I can't go on. I'll go on.''

In a tour de force performance as Molloy, Barry McGovern goes on for two acts and somewhat less than two hours. Mr. McGovern is visiting Lincoln Center in the Dublin Gate Theatre production as part of the First New York International Festival of the Arts. The actor and Gerry Dukes have extracted ``I'll Go On'' from three Beckett novels (``Molloy,'' ``Malone Dies,'' and ``The Unnamable.'')

Molloy enters down a side aisle of the theater, signaling his arrival with several blasts on a policeman's whistle. Bowler hatted and draped in a long, black coat, the jaunty vagrant humorously teases the audience about ``the show'' they are about to witness. After eating a banana in the best vaudeville tradition, he gets down to the business of recapitulating his largely insufferable life.

The recital features such reminiscences as Molloy's hospital visits to his hated mother; misadventures with the law, one of which involves the time he ran down and killed an ancient dog with his bicycle; and his experiences as a sort of beachcomber. The seashore interval prompts a long and complicated monologue about the arithmetical distribution of ``sucking stones'' among the pockets of his trousers and great coat. Mr. McGovern's nimble progress through this Beckettian maze is a highlight of a bravura performance.

In Act II, Molloy/Malone has shed his black coat for a long white garment. He occupies what might pass (in Robert Ballagh's abstract settings) for a hospital bed or a catafalque, from which the confused old survivor delivers further reminiscences and observations. The sardonic humor grows increasingly mordant. The recital itself accelerates into a torrent of words as Molloy seeks to grapple with the contradictions of his life.

A man of gaunt face, prominent features, and moderate build, Mr. McGovern embodies the raffish character even as he relishes Molloy's idiosyncrasies, occasional raunchiness, and offbeat observations: ``Social workers will pursue you to the ends of the earth.... Against the charitable there is no defense.... My life is over, and it goes on.... Tears and laughter, they're so much Gaelic to me....''

Under Colm 'O Briain's admirable direction, the star responds to the exceptional demands - physical as well as vocal - of the collaborative theater piece. Rupert Murray lighted the production, which runs through July 17.

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