The play is a rather extraordinary work of drama, played by an actress whose mouth alone is illuminated and the rest of the stage is completely dark. This mouth relates a tale of woe in somewhat fragmented and disjointed sentences talking about past traumas and a very empty and painful life.
Beckett said that the character was based at least in part on women that he knew in Ireland, old "crones" who appeared to be without particular purpose and who had lived very difficult and painful lives.
The play is meant to evoke a more emotional response than any kind of intellectual one, particularly as the stories told by the mouth are so difficult to follow in a straight-forward narrative sense.
Beckett's Not I is a radical play in terms of its stage-image, a spot-light on just a mouth blabbering its way with the rest of the stage in dark. It is a monologue of this female mouth--an act of compulsive confession, a trial of sorts where language is used in terms of excrement. It marks Beckett's absolute precision and a move towards the later works, which are now known as the 'dramaticules' after Come and Go.
1. Self-alienation, physical reduction is something that informs the minimalist form of the play as well as its protagonist. As the title implies, there is an impossible gulf between the speaking subject and the real self. This fracture can be seen as an evocation of the Freudian unconscious as characterized by Lacan as something like a language. according to Lacan, the Unconscious is also a discourse of the other. Not I points towards that kind of alterity. The schism may also be seen as a post-structuralist problematic of the decentring of the speaking subject through speech.
2. Feminism, especially the French variety has been used a lot in interpreting this play. Beckett continuously highlights the gender of the subject with the repetition of the word 'she' with exclamation. From this theoretical perspective, the play can be seen as a critique of the phallogocentric order of language where the female subject is always alienated as an other and thus the desire to reclaim that gendered feminine self.
3. Not I is a play about torture--the lethal problematic of darkness and a speck of light in it. As Beckett always opined, it is the remainder of light in the dark which makes reality so chaotic.
4. At a visual level, the play is a painting of fear. The movement of the lips dominates the thematic content of the words. There is a desire to stop this torrent of speech but it remains uncontrollable. The moving lips can be seen as a symbol of female genitalia.
5. The play has memory of definite scenes in the random speech of the mouth. Whether it is the lavatory scene or the courtroom scene of trial or the surrealistic scene of the drying teardrops on the surface of the palms on the vast corn-field--there is the working of the uncanny mutability of the self.