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Cries Afar Now Faint Now Clear 

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Some plays suffer when presented on a small stage; Samuel Beckett's work actually seems more at home in cramped quarters. Of course Beckett spent his life paring down his plays--simplifying the premises, reducing the number of characters, eliminating all but the most essential details, until his later work was effectively too small, too quiet, and too brief (some of it is as short as a quarter hour) to work effectively in larger, more traditional theaters. For four years now Charles Pike and Scott Baker, who perform under the name PUS but are known in some quarters as the"Beckett Boys," have been staging excellent productions of these smaller works in the kinds of tiny performance spaces--coffeehouses, back rooms of bars--that drive directors of more conventional plays crazy. Pike and Baker's production of Beckett's Eh Joe last spring, for example, used only a corner of Sheffield's, where Pike, as Joe, spent all of the play brooding on a stool. But he conveyed all the power of this moving one-act about an old man bedeviled by voices reminding him of his wasted life. Likewise their stage adaptation of Beckett's short story Stirrings Still used only a few props and a minimal number of lighting cues but successfully evoked both the tears and the laughter in this difficult, darkly funny meditation on death. Pike and Baker are performing Eh Joe and Stirrings Still together under the name "Cries Afar Now Faint Now Clear" as part of this year's Rhinoceros Theatre Festival. With any luck they'll prove again that despite the number of local theater companies that have jumped on the Beckett bandwagon in the past year or so, most notably (and successfully) the Splinter Group, no one else in Chicago approaches Beckett with the same joyous intensity as the Beckett Boys. At the Curious Theatre Branch, 1900 W. North, 883-8801. August 20 and 24: Friday, 10 PM; Tuesday, 8 PM. $7.

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