Home News and Features Lost Nation Theater Takes an Irreverent Look at Two Great Irish Writers 

Lost Nation Theater Takes an Irreverent Look at Two Great Irish Writers 

Kim Bent, left, playing Samuel Beckett, and Jock MacDonald, playing James Joyce, rehearse a scene from “Sam & Jim in Hell.” The new play by Jeanne Beckwith runs at Lost Nation Theater from Oct. 5 to 22. Photo by John Lazenby.
In 2019, while sitting on the bank of the River Liffey in Dublin, Ireland, and looking at the Samuel Beckett Bridge, playwright Jeanne Beckwith decided that for Beckett, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969 but was a very private person and disliked fame, forcing him to sit where she was and watch the bridge for eternity would be hell. “Wouldn’t that make a great, 10-minute play?” she thought.

Not much later, COVID-19 struck, and that short play became her pandemic project, evolving into a witty, comic drama about Beckett and fellow Irish expatriate James Joyce. The result, “Sam & Jim in Hell,” runs at Lost Nation Theater from Oct. 5 to 22.

 Ireland was a very different place in the 1920s and 1930s, with a heavy approach to morality, Beckwith said in a recent interview at Montpelier’s City Hall Auditorium, where the cast was rehearsing and preparing for the return to the theater’s home stage after the July flood.

“They were bucking the system,” Beckwith said. “They were doing work and wanted to live life more freely, so they went to France, where things were a little bit livelier.”

Actors Abby Paige (Suzanne Beckett), left, and Kim Bent (Samuel Beckett) in a scene from Lost Nation Theater’s production of Sam & Jim in Hell. Photo by John Lazenby.
Although the two men met in Paris, became friends, and lived most of their adult lives there, the play isn’t set in France but in some indistinct afterlife that actor Kim Bent, who plays Beckett, called “indeterminate reality.” Jock MacDonald, who plays Joyce, added that Beckett and Joyce spend a good deal of time in the play trying to figure that out.

“The characters don’t know where they are,” said director Kathleen Keenan. “We are trying to evoke that for the audience, as well.” She said they have an expansive, minimalist set, with just a bench, a trash can, a stone, and a lamppost. She said the title captures Beckwith’s familiarity and affection for the men, and does it with irreverence.

Beckett is a favorite of both Bent — who has acted in Beckett plays — and Beckwith, who has taught and directed Beckett plays for decades, including during her 20 years at Norwich University.

Although Beckett (1906–1989) and Joyce (1882–1941) are challenging to read and widely considered two of the world’s most influential 20th century writers, Beckwith and Keenan said the play presents their human sides, airing some of their flaws and displaying their sense of humor, while remaining approachable for general audiences.

“The playwright asks them to confront some unresolved relationships in their lives,” Bent said. “They get called on some of their behavior,” Keenan added.

As if having the two men meet in an afterlife wasn’t already surreal, Beckwith said the play becomes even more surreal “when the women come in.” Those women are the Colleen of the Gate, played by Ruth Wallman, who admits them; Beckett’s longtime partner and eventual wife, Suzanne, played by Abby Paige; and Joyce’s daughter, Lucia, played by Amanda MacDonald. MacDonald is a professional actor who lives in Los Angeles and was able to come to Vermont to be in this play because of the writers’ and actors’ strikes. She is Jock MacDonald’s daughter and plays his daughter in the play.

Bent and Jock MacDonald, who said they were listening to recordings of the two writers and working on their Irish accents, noted that because Beckett and Joyce lived so long in other parts of Europe, neither had a pure Irish accent.

 Although disappointed that the elevator isn’t working, Keenan said she is thrilled to be returning to the City Hall Auditorium, where Lost Nation Theater has been putting on plays for 35 years, and to be part of helping with the “reemergence and rebirth of the town” after the July flood.

Keenan is also excited about a new musical theater education program starting this month in cooperation with the Montpelier Roxbury Public Schools. Open to students in grades 6–8 and 9–12, Show Choir will meet at Montpelier High School on Sundays from 4:30 to 7 p.m., beginning Oct.15. It will culminate in a May 12, 2024 performance on Lost Nation’s stage in City Hall Auditorium.

 Working as junior and senior choirs, sometimes separately and sometimes as one, participants will focus on singing, staging, acting through song, choreography, and song interpretation. Kianna Bromley, who heads Montpelier High School Masque, Harwood Union Middle and High School’s musical director Molly Clark, and accompanist Dan Bruce will lead the program.

“Sam & Jim in Hell’’ runs at Lost Nation Theater in Montpelier’s City Hall Auditorium, Oct. 5–22. Evening performances are Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m., with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Tickets are available at lostnationtheater.org, or by calling 802-229-0492. Because the building’s elevator is not yet repaired, those who are unable to access the auditorium can phone the number above or email info@lostnationtheater.org for information about live-streaming the show.