Baryshnikov does Beckett in a high-art quartet of the playwright's short pieces. Depending on your comfort level with the master of stasis and absurdity, the 70-minute running time will either be too quick or entirely too long, but Obie-winning director JoAnne Akalaitas has pulled together a diverting production tied to Mikhail Baryshnikov's grace and presence. In admirable shape nearing age 60, the dancer has exactly the right chops for the funny and harrowing Act Without Words I. The solo scenario pits him against three boxes, a tree, and unseen forces that repeatedly throw him onto the stage, as he attempts to retrieve a pitcher of water that dangles within view, a whistle guiding his movements. In the other, pas de deux vignettes, a sharp prodding instrument pokes him and David Neumann out of their shapeless green sacks for their daily rituals (Act Without Words II) his blind fiddle player, A, hits a sour note with wheelchair-bound B (Bill Camp, fresh from NYTW's Misanthrope), in Rough for Theatre I and, as he languishes silently on a bed, an accusatory Karen Kandel pricks his conscience in Eh Joe.
Forever the boyishly captivating Mischa but a bit weather-beaten with the passage of time, Baryshnikov's Russian demeanor adds further texture to the program, scored with his accustomed mournful minimalism by Philip Glass. In his stage debut, artist and architect Alexander Brodsky has given the cast a stage-spanning sandbox to play in, demarcated by scrims onto which Mirit Tal focuses projections the multiple Mikhails in Eh Joe, supplemented by Jennifer Tipton's incisive lighting, are particularly striking. All in all a satisfying appetizer till the arrival of a pair of Beckett longs, Happy Days and Endgame, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music next year.