Theater Review: ‘I’ll Go On’

July 25, 2008 Updated: October 24, 2015

Mysterious and comedic Beckett

NEW YORK—I’ll Go On, the second offering of the trio of theatrical presentations entitled Gate/Beckett, brought by the noted Gate Theatre of Dublin to be part of the Lincoln Center Festival 08, is a compilation of excerpts from three novels by Samuel Beckett. The excerpts have been lovingly selected by actor Barry McGovern along with Gerry Dukes, and brilliantly performed by McGovern, who well deserves his reputation as one of the great interpreters of Beckett’s works.

Before beginning the evening's first selection, from Beckett's novel "Molloy," an unrelated prelude is offered. McGovern appears from the wings wearing a shabby, oversized gray coat and bowler hat, looking very much like a vaudevillian or a clown as his lightning-fast patter both amuses and draws in the audience. He later opens the overcoat to reveal its peculiar, warmth-giving lining. But he is not yet Molloy.

The curtain opens on a weird-looking set. This must be Molloy territory. Instead of the usual straightforward placement we’re used to, it’s on a disconcerting angle. Of course, with this material it’s par for the course to be disconcerted and thus, literally, it sets the stage, as it were, for what’s to come.

Molloy is an extreme kind of momma’s boy, with a passionate love/hate relationship that  threatens to tear Molloy apart—and maybe kill his mother. However, the more Molloy vents his rage toward Momma, the more hilarious it all seems. Then, utilizing an oversized sawhorse to represent his bike, Molloy describes how he accidentally runs down a dog. As an irate crowd is about to seize him for his murderous act, the dog’s owner, a charming middle-aged woman, intervenes and befriends Molloy. (McGovern’s interpretation of this woman is pitch-perfect.)

Nevertheless, Molloy is accosted by the police. Here McGovern’s breakneck-speed changes of character, to alternately represent Molloy and a policeman, are a wonder of his acting skills, as with merely a nod or positioning of his head and adjusting the pitch of his voice he almost literally paints a picture of the two men. Happily, Molloy is released after a day in jail and all ends well.

In the section from “Malone Dies” we are startled to discover McGovern stretched out on a bier. But he’s not ready to die yet, Malone informs us, also making it clear that he “forgives no one” for the wrongs they have done him in life. Here the actor demonstrates his remarkable physical skill, as he goes from lying flat out, to coming to sitting position with nary an effort, then swinging himself down from the bier to address the audience, then rapidly resuming his prone position on the bier. Malone will die when he’s good and ready.

The last and most serious section, from the novel “The Unnamable,” contains the poignant speech, ending “I can’t go on/I’ll go on,” a line also memorably contained in Beckett’s play, “Waiting for Godot.” 

The artists involved in this presentation—in addition to the remarkable Barry McGovern—director Colm O’Briain, designer Robert Ballagh, and lighting designer James McConnell, have created an inspired theatre piece, one of which the late Samuel Beckett would undoubtedly have been proud.

I’ll Go On
(Artistic Director Michael Colgan)
Lincoln Center Festival 08
Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College
10th Avenue between 58th & 59th Streets
Tickets: (212) 721-6500 or or Avery Fisher Hall Box Office, 65th & Broadway
Closes: July 27

Diana Barth writes and publishes “New Millennium,” an arts newsletter. For information: