By Holli Harms

Imagine Tom Stoppard and Samuel Beckett in a strange universe, trapped maybe, maybe not, you’re not sure, and in this universe, they are not together but apart and have only their phones to communicate with and they communicate as most of us do these days through text. Imagine. This is Archer Eland’s Textplay now playing through December 3rd on Demand.

It’s Stoppard’s phone you are viewing as the texts from Beckett come in and Stoppard replies. You are reading/watching over Tom’s shoulder, with no music, nothing, just you and Tom Stoppard’s phone.

It may sound awkward, and not at all entertaining, but the truth is we all spend most of our days on our phones getting and giving texts; waiting for responses to invitations, to announcements, and we are entertained. This play is intriguing as it is two of the most compelling playwrights of the twentieth century texting one another. Both men changed the landscape of theatre giving us works of incredible prose and story how will they respond in text form, and what we will learn?

It opens with Beckett trying out an idea for a play. Stoppard, the performer, must follow his directions. Beckett’s play idea has very little dialogue, mostly stage directions. You read it imagining Tom Stoppard in this short but relevant production and you think, “This could work, could be compelling.” They then move on to a game; guess the title of famous plays with only emojis to indicate the title. You, the audience member, are given just enough time to try to figure the title out before they do.

They create for one another existential moments, moments of silence, moments where they berate one another, attack not only their works but each other as men, moments all to release the boredom of being trapped, or not, you are never sure, in another universe. We watch as Beckett asks Stoppard, “Tell us the true meaning of art, Sir Tom.” Stoppard then types out his thoughts on the question of what art means to the world and without it what we would be missing. We can read all he is typing, as it is his phone we are observing, but after this long text, instead of hitting “send,” he deletes it all and sends a question putting the burden of the meaning of art back on Beckett. Stoppard does this often, long lengthy texts that he deletes and instead sends cryptic one or two-word responses. Something we have all done. Texting has become an important way of communicating. Possibly our most important.

This is a clever piece that I believe both men would find intriguing.

I thought as I read the texts alone in the silence of my apartment, laughing aloud with no one to share but the dog, what if it were Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas texting one another? What would they be texting about? Would Dali and Picasso have been mostly emojis? Would Joyce have written out long texts with no punctuation to Hemingway who would have answered in short cryptic sentences? Is how we text as individual as who we are?

Textplay by Archer Eland and presented by NYU Skirball and playing on Demand, September 20 – December 3, and can be read from anywhere in the world. TICKETS HERE

You must watch the show on the same day that you purchase your ticket. You may enter On Demand from the time you purchase your ticket up until 11:59pm that night.

Running time is 35 minutes.