Not I was produced as part of Acme Corporation’s Rogue Waves—an evening of short plays in February 2012 at the Bell Foundry. The presentation of the piece was, on its surface, a radical rethinking of the work.
Rather than presenting it in the traditional way—“a stage in darkness but for a mouth . . . faintly lit from close-up and below”—the actress, Sarah Lloyd’s face was totally lit and her voice was amplified by a visible microphone. In front of her was a 50 gallon fish tank filled with water, with a video camera underneath. The text is broken into five sections, each (except for the last, which fades out) ending with the words “what? . . who? . . no! . . she! . .”
At the end of each section, Lloyd put her head in the tank, with her face facing the camera. The image of her face under water was shown on a television screen stage left. While Lloyd held her breath, a singer (Susan Stroupe) sang verses from the traditional Scottish folk ballad Bonny St. Johnston, one of the “Cruel Mother” songs collected by James Child. (I accompanied her on guitar.) The lyrics include:
Leaned her back against a thorn Edinburgh, Edinburgh
Leaned her back against a thorn Stirling for ay
Two bonniest babes that e’er were born
And Bonny St. Johnstone lies fair upon Tay
The choice of creating these breaks was not as arbitrary as it seems. In Beckett’s original text, he calls for a second character—“the auditor”—that stands on one side of the stage and in each break “[raises its] arms from sides and [falls] back, in a gesture of helpless compassion.” This character is now normally omitted from presentations—Beckett cut it in the original production. But the idea of a witness/commentator for the “Mouth” (as the speaking actress is referred to) and her loggerhead seems an important element that should not be left out. The song, and the violent (and yet oddly peaceful) image of the actress’s face under water underscored the traumatic (and yet unspecific) act that is possibly the reason for the character’s loggerhea.