11/13/2013 06:51 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

First Nighter: Neat Tricks Pulled Off in Beckett's All That Fall , Nothing to Hide

(Reviewer's note: Some months ago, I reviewed Samuel Beckett's All That Fall, a radio play that director Trevor Nunn convinced the Beckett estate executives should be done on the stage. To help prove his point, he hired the superlative Eileen Atkins and Michael Gambon to lead the small cast. That production, still headlining Atkins and Gambon, is now in Manhattan at 59E59 Theatres. Here's a partially rewritten version of the earlier review.)

Samuel Beckett wanted his plays done exactly as he wrote them and as he particularized them in his stage directions. Don't think of adding even a second tree, for instance, to the Waiting for Godot set. His executors have followed the strict dictates, although they've recently bent them for All That Fall, the 75-minute radio play he composed as a 1956 BBC commission. The title is taken from Psalm 145, where the palmist promises that God will lift the fallen.

Beckett wanted sound to be the main focus, of course, and asked for all kinds of sound effects that Paul Groothuis abundantly supplies. First heard when the room darkens are animal noises that come from the farm where Maddy Rooney (Atkins) lives and from which she's departing. She's walking to the train station to meet blind husband Dan (Gambon). Her cane pounding the road is prominent in the foreground sounds.

Along her lonely way to the station and on their lonely way home, she, then Dan and she encounter a series of neighbors. Though they're a motley lot and range in age, the one thing common to just about every one is a relative in poor health -- someone or someones who, as one neighbor puts it, is "no better... no worse."

The most afflicted of them, however, remains cantankerous Maddy, who views herself as so shunted aside by the fates that at one point she blurts, "I'm left-handed on top of everything else." At another point, she utters a standard Beckett expression of terminal despair. In her case, it's "How can I go on?" Some of those self-pitying outbursts are laugh lines. They emphasize that, while Beckett considered life no laughing matter, he also considered life indeed a laughing matter.

The laughs fade as the aging Mr. and Mrs. Rooney get closer to home and a storm simultaneously meant to be literal and symbolic overtakes them. That's when the enveloping -- not to say enshrouding -- sound effects overtake the audience/listeners.

Trevor Nunn sees the piece much more as a stage play. Yes, he has the nine actors -- perched on chairs stage right and left when not in the action -- carry scripts as demanded by the Beckett flame-keepers. Nevertheless, he sees the dialogue as an opportunity for actors to strut their stuff. To prove it, he reunites Atkins and Gambon, who'd performed together previously in Yasmina Reza's two-hander, The Unexpected Man, and these two leading purveyors of their craft show every complex emotion they can muster.

Atkins as the brittle Maddy, having crossed the stage from left to right (where the train station is meant to be), and Gambon as the sightless and worried Dan, having escorted her from stage right back to stage left, end the play hanging onto each other and staring wordlessly into space. They're the essence of fearful old age -- an unforgettable image of two helpless orphans of the storm.

More than that, they're instantly reminiscent of a tragedy to which Beckett often pays homage: King Lear. Think of the foolish king leading blind chum Gloucester across the heath, and here they are echoed -- not just in Vladimir and Estragon of Waiting for Godot -- but maybe even more so in Maddy and Dan.

We Beckett followers -- and anyone interested in theater -- have to be grateful that Nunn badgered the Beckett estate for the rights to do All That Fall away from the airwaves. The property now has a broader future as part of the great playwrights' legacy.


Helder Guimaraes and Derek DelGaudio are magicians who met each other not that long ago at Los Angeles's Magic Castle. The former from Portugal, the latter a Californian, they both had already become experts at deck-of-cards legerdemain.

Lucky for us that they decided to blend their decks into one act. Now, after an astonishingly short but obviously magical time of blending their talents, they're pulling off Nothing to Hide at the Signature's Romulus Linney space. The two of them are immensely likable guys whose best trick may be keeping jaws dropped in awe for 70 minutes.

My best advice on an irresistible show, breezily directed by magic devoté Neil Patrick Harris, is to go with their flow, particularly if you're one of the volunteers they hit on. I know, of course, that perhaps only the youngest child will agree to surrender all disbelief. Most audience members -- though dazzled at how the right card always appears no matter from whence it's drawn -- will attempt to figure out how the truly adorable and never reluctant to utter an obscenity for laugh purposes DelGaudio and Guimaraes work their illusions.

I certainly didn't keep from analyzing their tricks, despite how impossible what they were conjuring seemed. After much cogitation, I've got my theory. I'm convinced that -- despite all the deck shuffling that goes on -- the deft and daft Guimaraes and DelGaudio are sometimes palming a card or two and at other times substituting carefully concealed decks. (You know, that old magician's tool: misdirection.) I'm also convinced that pictures of both fellows are posted at casinos across the land, since no croupier would want to come up against them.

In other words, Guimaraes and DelGaudio have plenty to hide. But okay, okay, I never caught them at it. I bet you won't either, but be my guest. Go try.