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On Beckett

From 22 critic and 63 member reviews
Members say: Great acting, Absorbing, Intelligent, Clever, Funny

About the show

Tony Award-winner, and MacArthur Fellow Bill Irwin explores his relationship with the work of Samuel Beckett in this New York premiere solo show presented by Irish Repertory Theatre. More…

Bill Irwin can’t escape Samuel Beckett. He has spent a lifetime captivated by the Irish writer’s language. In this intimate 90-minute evening, Irwin will explore both the comic and the tragic sides of Beckett’s work through excerpts of his texts including "Waiting for Godot," "The Unnamable" and "Texts for Nothing."

Theatre Reviews Limited

“Part performance, part graduate school lecture, part predilections on whether Beckett’s writing is ‘natural clown territory,’ and part perusal of the importance of culture and language – all presented with perfection and seemingly unbridled passion by Irwin...One of the most profound experiments to be conducted on an off-Broadway stage...This is a performance needed to be seen, to be ingested, to be struggled with.” Full Review

Wolf Entertainment Guide

“Irwin is not only a great clown but he has an inquiring mind as well and he puts both to excellent use...’On Beckett’ lasts one hour and 30 minutes, which may prove to be among the most delightful time periods you have spent. Irwin is dazzlingly at the height of his skills. His physical clowning, wit, and agile use of props such as hats and costumes are a joy to behold...Seeing Irwin may make you want to explore Beckett further. It may also make you want to long for more of Irwin.” Full Review


"With wit, humility, and just the right amount of awe, Bill Irwin's 'On Beckett' pays tribute to the greatest Irish author in the history of France. Tackling this paradox and other much more profound ones, the actor, director, writer and clown wears all of his theatrical hats to intellectually and emotionally untangle some well-chosen snippets of Samuel Beckett's forbidding canon, including a few key passages from that head-scratching tragicomedy 'Waiting for Godot'" Full Review

The New York Times

“The show illuminates the notoriously opaque writings of Beckett without ever betraying their ineffable heart. In like manner, Irwin opens up his bag of performer’s tricks and even spills them out for our inspection...A replete bill of fare, filled with perceptive and appealingly humble observations on bringing Beckett’s language to life...The toil, according to Beckett, may be tedious and futile. But Mr. Irwin also gives us the pure, energizing joy in the playing of it." Full Review


"Irwin's masterful renditions, which he infuses with vaudevillian shtick and hilarious clowning, make Beckett's words bloom not just with humor but with poignant emotion...Beckett's unending inquiry into the awareness of one's whereness, with all the potentially terrifying existential questions that such an investigation can raise, has never seemed more approachable than in Irwin's thought-provoking one-man show...‘On Beckett’ is master class on and by a master. Shouldn't be missed.” Full Review

Broadway & Me

"Bill Irwin is a genius...If you’re hesitating, you should put your worries aside and go. Irwin won me over within the first five minutes with his deep knowledge of Beckett’s work...For 80 minutes, he makes us almost believe that we can plumb the depths of Beckett’s recondite musings...It’s a master class in acting and as apt an encapsulation of Beckett’s mind as you’re likely to find outside a college classroom. Only it’s far, far more enjoyable. If you're a theater lover, you shouldn't miss... Full Review

New York Magazine / Vulture

“Utterly delightful...With candor and poignancy, Irwin pulls back the curtain on the process of performing Beckett’s ‘famously difficult’ texts. Infinitely expressive body, bowler hat, and baggy pants are his primary tools. With them, he cracks Beckett open and invites us to step inside...Irwin is like a magician revealing how the trick is done — and somehow rendering it all the more magical...A delicious piece of theater. Picture a top-notch TED Talk crossed with a clown show...Deeply funny.” Full Review

Berkshire Fine Arts

“Irwin, with his mastery of the physical, clownish gesture and the musical lines of language presents a moving portrait of selections from Samuel Beckett’s work...Irwin is brilliant as he performs sections of ‘Texts for Nothing’. Not for nothing does Irwin shape his words into musical lines full of arcs, pauses, gasps and gutturals...The evening is delightful...Irwin is very funny indeed and presents a captivating evening of theater.” Full Review

Theater Pizzazz

“A dazzling feat...Without talking to us, or pulling anybody out of their seat, he makes the audience very much a part of the action, which is one of the most satisfying things any theatre experience can provide...Irwin’s expressivity in both body and voice expose graceful movements of immaculately-timed specificity. All that, along with the personal nature of Irwin’s insights, won my heart and moved me by the end of this wonderful evening." Full Review

Front Row Center

“'On Beckett,' with the marvelous Bill Irwin, is, as the title suggests, a talk and a performance. With a bit of tweaking it could be a TED Talk. And a mighty good one...Irwin is not only earnest, he is mercurial. A dollop of him performing goes a long way in explaining Beckett...I know more than I did about Samuel Beckett – more than I even knew I could know. But most of all I got to spend 85 minutes with Bill Irwin, which may be the true gift in all of this.” Full Review

Theatre's Leiter Side

He's such a magnetic, charming, informative, and accessible personality, it's a wonder 'On Beckett'…isn't called 'Bill Irwin on Beckett'…Being the unusual player that he is,…much of his approach derives from his joy in clowning…Watching him sink and rise behind the lectern as if on a mechanical lift is only one of the visual plums he provides…Irwin rivets our attention by somehow transforming opaque, largely incomprehensible material into expressive streams of living text." Full Review

New York Stage Review

“The multi-tasking Irish-American artist offers an homage to his visionary idol that is both deeply personal and defiantly, even exuberantly accessible...Irwin’s talents in the latter capacity contribute greatly to the energy and humor abundant in ‘On Beckett’...Irwin’s fluid, witty physicality and evocative facial expressions lend character and color to all his readings, not to mention a brief, hilarious dance segment.” Full Review


“Part lecture, part performance, part clowning...A master class on the absurdist works of Samuel Beckett...It not only shakes out Beckett's enigmatic craft but reveals the impact that he has had on Irwin's artistic life...It's hard to single out a best moment...’On Beckett’ sees Irwin scoring time and again as he celebrates his deep artistic bond...Without diluting any of his art, he casts a new light on it and infuses it with his own American voice. And that alone deserves a hallelujah.” Full Review


"'This is like practicing scales,' Irwin says, pulling up his oversized pants and effortlessly slouching into his schlemiel posture. I could listen to it all day." Full Review

Talkin' Broadway

"Thoroughly enjoyable...At a tight 90-minutes it's just the right length, allowing audiences the time to immerse themselves in Beckett's existentialist musings without becoming mentally overloaded by his syntax and subtext...Irwin gives a master class in both performing and interpreting Beckett that young actors and lovers of literature won't want to miss." Full Review

Front Mezz Junkies

"Bill Irwin...Always excellent and engaging, utilizing his skill as a clown to drive a character in deep. He has that kind of face and presence. And every time it’s a master class...He connects to the vaudevillian voice, it’s stand alone strength, and shares his fascination most sweetly...He shrinks larger than life when he engages in the text, and with cold hands and a warm heart, he deepens our knowledge and appreciation of Beckett, Irwin, and a clown that just can’t stop exploring." Full Review

Time Out New York

"The impression is of an intimate but very careful love...This is Beckett-olatry, and his reverence sometimes keeps a lid on the emotion of the material...In this generous, sweet-spirited lecture, then, we can’t quite reach the mental space where Beckett’s mystery operates. Yet Irwin points to it and, with incredible craft, offers a tantalizing glimpse of performances yet to come. If he doesn’t quite give us Beckett’s cold darkness, at least he offers us the warmth of a votive flame.” Full Review

Lighting & Sound America

“’On Beckett’ has its graceful moments, but the trouble with Beckett is that you have to take him as you find him, or not at all. His works defy explanation and resist being taken out of context...Irwin comes across as a gushing fan. His enthusiasm is laudable, infectious, but it does little for one's appreciation of Beckett...Enjoyable more for its star than its subject, ‘On Beckett’ is probably the sweetest tribute...Whether that is a good thing or not is debatable, but Irwin remains a plea... Full Review

Scene 2

for a previous production "Irwin uses his clowning techniques to portray Beckett’s confused, ill-at-ease, physically uncomfortable, restless, never-at-home-in-this-or-any-other-realm everymen with humor, wisdom, and compassion...A wonderful evening of theatrical enlightenment. Irwin is smart and knowledgeable and conveys his experiences with enthusiasm and insight...He’s explaining why this material excites him, why it energizes him as an actor, and why it’s more important and relevant than ever." Full Review

The Mercury News

for a previous production "Part actor’s showcase, part scholarly lecture, this chatty work-in-progress is an intriguing tour through the Beckett canon. Irwin is clearly still refining the piece, which lacks definition, but it’s a pleasure to watch the funnyman at work...It’s quite touching to watch him share his lifelong affinity for a writer usually feared and revered in equal proportions...When the virtuoso comedian burrows down into the language of Beckett, however, the piece utterly transcends its limitations." Full Review

Talkin' Broadway

for a previous production "A fascinating lecture on Beckett...It was a pleasure to both listen to and watch this Tony-winning actor and veteran clown performer...This artist is somewhere between Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton with a little of Steve Martin thrown in for good measure...The consummate artist...does Pozzo's disturbing soliloquy from 'Waiting for Godot' with a rope around his neck. It's a moment to remember...I have a new appreciation of Samuel Beckett's words thanks to this skillful actor." Full Review

SF Chronicle

for a previous production "It’s a pleasure to watch Bill Irwin do anything, even just play around onstage sans much direction...His voice also astonishes. With each new phrase, he pivots to a new register, plumbing the depths and peaks of his range...Which is also the show’s central problem. Irwin makes bold choices, a great, great deal of them, but many of them lack a clear justification...'On Beckett' might be even stronger if Irwin made a stronger commitment to his own distinctive choices." Full Review

Delightful, Great acting, Clever, Refreshing

See it if you enjoy Beckett, Godot and/or Irwin.

Don't see it if you don't like lectures or clowning.

Absorbing, Entertaining, Masterful

See it if you like good theater, Becket, Bill Irwin or just intelligent yet funny entertainment.

Don't see it if you really hate Becket. Only reason.

Also This is an entertainer who makes Becket a little comprehensible and li... Read more Read less

Clown, theatre and audience heaven

See it if for an actor's sparkling analysis of Beckett's haunting speeches, silences, direction--and laughter of the best kind. Irwin rocks.

Don't see it if you dislike Beckett or slapstick or won't appreciate deep analysis of his forever-cutting-edge work from an actor's viewpoint.

Also Bill Irwin is one of our generation's most brilliant clowns, and also ... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Clever, Great acting, Funny, Delightful

See it if You appreciate great literature, Irish humor, great acting

Don't see it if You don't want to think

Absorbing, Entertaining, Illuminating

See it if Want insight into the writing of Samuel Beckett told & performed by a passionate, talented and intelligent fan in Bill Irwin

Don't see it if you are expecting a narrative play.

Also This is just about a perfect production--a combination of Irwin's insi... Read more Read less

Delightful, Enchanting, Entertaining, Intelligent, Thought-provoking

See it if Experience a true master class by a virtuoso of mime, clowning, acting & Beckett; you want to learn & be entertained; Irwin is mesmerizing.

Don't see it if Honestly, I don't know why you wouldn't want to see this unless you dislike Irwin and/or Beckett, good acting, clowning, learning and magic.

Also Irwin is both profound and magical, while Beckett is a mystery - great... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Great acting, Thought-provoking, Masterful

See it if you have seen Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” and want to explore his work with Bill Irwin a masterful interpreter of Beckett.

Don't see it if “Serious” theater and Existentialist grappling with insanity are not for you.

Also Bill Irwin is already a MacArthur Genius award winner—this show he has... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Clever, Great acting, Masterful, Profound

See it if you want to spend 90 minutes completely engrossed in watching and listening to Bill Irwin perform and elucidate Beckett's works.

Don't see it if you need a big cast to provide a full presentation. Alone on stage (with just a little assist), Mr. Irwin is more than sufficient.

Also I was completely captivated and at times felt as though my head would ... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Profound

See it if A masterclass about Beckett, language and performance from the great Bill Irwin. Both personal and universal. Very touching with some humor.

Don't see it if If you have no interest in the playwright, clowning, or intense one-man shows in small theaters.

Absorbing, Clever, Riveting, And brillant

See it if You want to see Bill Irwin's walk a fine line between interpreting Beckett intellectually and clowning. 90 minutes of pure bliss!

Don't see it if You don't like Beckett or clowns.

Enchanting, Entertaining, Funny, Masterful, Profound

See it if You love Beckett. You never heard of Beckett. You love Bill Irwin. You never heard of Bill Irwin.

Don't see it if While this masterclass on the works of Samuel Beckett may not be for everyone. It should be.

Also Confession: I'd pay to watch Bill Irwin read a phone book. The man is ... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Intelligent, Refreshing, Bill irwin is a national treasure

See it if You are a fan of Bill Irwin. You want to see a unique take on Samuel Beckett.

Don't see it if You really dislike Beckett and don't have the patience to listen to his tricky texts.

Also I adore Bill Irwin. He is a marvelous performer of great intelligence ... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Intelligent, Clever

See it if You like Beckett. Bill Irwin does a masterful job of presenting us with some fascinating insights into Beckett. So interesting & enjoyable

Don't see it if You are not interested in Becket's plays/words. Oh...those words!!!

Great acting, Great writing, Entertaining, Intelligent, Must see

See it if you want to see the inimitable Bill Irwin in a challenging evening which will PERHAPS clarify Beckett fo you a bit. In any case, delightful

Don't see it if you really HATE Beckett and don't want to understand his writing better, and also are not interested in clown tradition.

Clever, Great acting, Great writing, Intelligent

See it if For a seminar on the language of Beckett, an explanation of the clown silhouette, hats, and an absolutely charming Bill Irwin.

Don't see it if It requires some brain exercise to be fully appreciated. If you want passive entertainment this isn’t it.

Absorbing, Ambitious, Great writing, Masterful, Profound

See it if Irwin's master class on Beckett is far far more than "Beckett for dummies" Intellect merges with pathos (& of course clowning) for a charmer

Don't see it if A lecture/professorial quality can't be escaped but Irwin still wins us over Looking into life's abyss not everyone's idea of entertainment

Virtuoso, stripped-down, personal performance

See it if The "lecture-y" performance may be a newish genre of theater, but only a Bill Irwin can make it this theatrical.

Don't see it if It's Beckett, which means it's partly unintelligible, but Irwin's connection to the texts and his physical comedy bring them to life.

Great writing, Great acting, Intelligent, Haunting

See it if you have an interest in Beckett, or acting (this is an actor's take on Beckett), or clowning, or language, or the human condition.

Don't see it if hearing the word "existentialism" puts you to sleep.

Intelligent, Masterful, Great acting, Clever, Entertaining

See it if You like Bill Irwin and /or Beckett. You want a new perspective on Beckett.

Don't see it if If you don't like one man shows. If you prefer big Broadway productions

Intelligent, Masterful, Delightful

See it if You appreciate Bill Irwin’s work and his ability to illuminate Beckett - even if you’re not a Beckett fan.

Don't see it if You don’t like creative, cerebral, funny one man shows.

Masterful, Absorbing, Ambitious

See it if You admire Beckett & are ready to learn about his writing, use of words & direction from the master showman, Bill Irwin

Don't see it if You prefer musicals or big productions

Clever, Profound, Thought-provoking, Funny, Delightful

See it if Bill Irwin as actor, clown, and Beckett aficionado. Challenging Beckett excerpts and analysis mixed with hilarious clowning. A treat!

Don't see it if You are not interested in a literary challenge. You don’t enjoy physical comedy. This is performance art, without a traditional narrative.

Clever, Delightful, Entertaining, Great acting, Must see

See it if you are a Beckett fan, or more importantly a Bill Irwin fan you will love this. Bill Irwin is wonderful.

Don't see it if you Hate Beckett, don't like one man shows and find Bill Irwin boring.

Great acting, Intelligent, Illuminating, Insightful, Masterful

See it if you need to be convinced that Beckett is a great writer.

Don't see it if you don't like one man shows.

Also The result is insightful and illuminating, affording greater appreciat... Read more Read less

Riveting, Absorbing, Intelligent, Masterful, Must see

See it if You want to experience the amazing artistry of Bill Irwin. He is remarkable. Plus his discourse on Beckett was revealing.

Don't see it if You don’t like Waiting for Godot and other Beckett writings