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Though he famously denied the association, the influence of the Irish-born master dramatist Samuel Beckett on the career of the first major playwright of the American contemporary era, Edward Albee, is plain. Often linked with his European contemporaries Eugene Ionesco and Jean Genet, it is Beckett who has most effectively provided the American theater scene its transformative encounter with the theater of the absurd, and his deservedly renowned Endgame (1957) is the Transatlantic Touchstone for this part therefore. Absurdist theater comprised the uniquely postwar (indeed post-nuclear) dramatic response to a humanity that many left-wing intellectuals were sure had come unhinged, had sacrificed its last semblance of commitment to self and other in the catastrophic instances of the Holocaust, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki; the Vietnam War; and the many assassinations, riots, and revolts of the late 1960s. Beckett’s absurdism confronted its audience with a bleak, ruined setting; equally deteriorated and deranged (though often darkly comic and clownish) characters; and stringent mockery of any pretense to hope, survival, or fellow-feeling. In Waiting for Godot (1953), the Chaplinesque tramps, Vladimir and Estragon, famously await “Godot”—widely interpreted as a god figure—who never arrives, then endlessly insist to each other that they both “go,” though neither ever does.
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Baraka, Amiri (LeRoi Jones). Dutchman. 1964. The Kenning Anthology of Poets Theater, 1945–1985. Eds. Kevin Killian and David Brazil. Chicago: Kenning Editions, 2010. 202–20.
Beckett, Samuel. Endgame. 1957. New York: Grove/Weidenfeld, 1958.
Guare, John. “The House of Blue Leaves.” 1971. The House of Blue Leaves and Two Other Plays. New York: NAL, 1987. 3–87.
Shepard, Sam. Buried Child. 1978. Seven Plays. New York: Bantam, 1984. 61–132.
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