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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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Biographer James Knowlson relates the disaster that was the US premiere of Waiting for Godot in, of all places, the Coconut Grove Playhouse in Miami in January 1956, where it had been billed, absurdly, as “the laugh hit of two continents”: “It was a fiasco… the audience left in droves at the intermission” (378). Producer Michael Myerberg blamed director Alan Schneider for his mishandling of comedian Bert Lahr in the role of Estragon but later himself admitted, “In casting Bert Lahr and Tom Ewell I created the wrong impression about the play. Both actors were too well known in certain types of performance. The audience thought they were going to see Lahr and Ewell cut loose in a lot of capers. They expected a farcical comedy, which Waiting for Godot, of course, is not” (qtd. in Knowlson, 378).
go back to reference 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. 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.
go back to reference Beckett, Samuel. Endgame. 1957. New York: Grove/Weidenfeld, 1958. Beckett, Samuel. Endgame. 1957. New York: Grove/Weidenfeld, 1958.
go back to reference Guare, John. “The House of Blue Leaves.” 1971. The House of Blue Leaves and Two Other Plays. New York: NAL, 1987. 3–87. Guare, John. “The House of Blue Leaves.” 1971. The House of Blue Leaves and Two Other Plays. New York: NAL, 1987. 3–87.
go back to reference Shepard, Sam. Buried Child. 1978. Seven Plays. New York: Bantam, 1984. 61–132. Shepard, Sam. Buried Child. 1978. Seven Plays. New York: Bantam, 1984. 61–132.
- Part VI
- Macmillan Education UK
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