Company; Written by Samuel Beckett. Performed by Frederick Neumann. Music by Philip Glass.
How like the ironic Samuel Beckett to have writen a lonely monologue called ''Company.'' And how like the theater group Mabou Mines to give it a first-rate stage production, in conjunction with the New York Shakespeare Festival - turning its brittle cascade of words into a full theatrical experience, even though it was originally composed for the printed page.
The plot, what there is of it, recalls many another Beckett work, from ''How It Is'' to ''The Lost Ones.'' A man lies on his back in the dark - dead? sleeping? or just waiting for one of those conditions? - and listens to the sad, slow voice of memory. To fill the hours - or days? years? centuries? - he wishes halfheartedly for companionship, and dreams fitfully of the ''unnamable'' whose imagination has generated this whole situation.
As originally written, ''Company'' is a prose piece that offers few obvious entry-points for stagecraft: There's just one character and no dialogue, and almost nothing happens except when the ''hero'' decides to crawl a bit, or tries to determine whether a supine or prone position would be more ''entertaining in the long run.''
What makes it successful at the Public Theater is the wit, variety, and sheer conviction of Frederick Neumann's performance. He doesn't offer the bravura dynamics of the late Jack MacGowran's televised Beckett solo of a few years back , but he brings life and motion to every phrase of an austere and potentially forbidding work.
Also essential is the typically intense music by Philip Glass - a brief string quartet heard in several snippets - and the remarkable setting by Gerald Marks. This consists mainly of three huge dishes standing upright behind the action, sometimes shining with an eerie moonglow, other times glaring as white and merciless as Beckett's own gaze. These objects work magical changes on the timbre of Neumann's voice, too, and catch his shadow when properly struck by Craig Miller's dramatic lighting design.
''Company,'' directed by Neumann and Honora Fergusson, who makes a wordless appearance as a wraith of memory, is quintessential Beckett. It continues at the Public/Other Stage through Jan. 30.