BUCKETS O’ BECKETT, Irish Repertory of Chicago, at Victory Gardens Theater. For four years, beginning in 1992, Splinter Group produced a festival of Samuel Beckett’s shorter, less familiar plays. “Buckets o’ Beckett” eventually became popular enough that in 1996 the company produced a marathon of Beckett’s work–18 of his 19 plays crushed into an all-too-brief four weeks. We’ve gone without the “Buckets” fest while Splinter Group regrouped and renamed itself the Irish Repertory of Chicago, but fortunately Beckett was Irish–though the son of an Orangeman who lived much of his life in Paris–so “Buckets o’ Beckett” is back.

This year’s festival features two rarely produced pieces–Quad and Act Without Words 2–plus two short works done more often, Play and Krapp’s Last Tape. The productions range from passable to excellent. I’ve seen sharper versions of Play–three characters in large urns talk in turn–most recently in the window of a futon store during the Around the Coyote festival last fall. But this Krapp, starring William J. Norris, ranks among the best I’ve seen. For years Scrooge in Goodman’s A Christmas Carol, Norris plays Krapp with a Scroogelike crusty crabbiness that heightens both the comedy and the disarming sadness of Beckett’s haunting meditation on death, decay, and delusion. Moreover, Norris is a fine physical comedian, and early in the piece Beckett gives Krapp several pratfalls worthy of Buster Keaton. –Jack Helbig