Sunday, April 13, 2008

Happy Birthday, Sam Beckett

I do some playwriting, and Sam is someone that every playwright must come to terms with, one way or another. I'm a NetFlix subscriber, and I highly-recommend their 4-DVD set, "Beckett on Film." An Irish national film project set out to create filmed versions of every Beckett play, from the very small, peculiar pieces, to the ineffable masterpiece, Waiting for Godot. A few notes on Beckett's masterwork:

1. It's GOD-ot, not god-OH. People assume that because it was originally written in French, the name of the always-on-the-way figure must be pronounced with a French accent. Beckett made it clear in an interview that the accent is on the first syllable. I find myself thinking of him as a sort of divine Marx brother: Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and God-o.

2. Waiting for Godot is funny. You need to see it performed, especially the filmed version I just finished watching, to understand how incredibly funny it is.

3. Even a crusty old polemicist like me cannot help but feel a frisson of existential terror at the grim despair in Pozzo's words, late in the second act:
“They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it’s night once more”

From the Writer's Almanac:

It's the birthday of the playwright and novelist Samuel Beckett born in a rich suburb of Dublin called Foxrock (1906). He was an assistant to James Joyce in Paris and then got involved in the French Resistance during World War II. He wanted badly to be a novelist, but he was blocked, and so he decided to try writing a play. As an exercise, he made it as simple as possible: It would be a play about two men, Vladimir and Estragon, waiting for a man named Godot, who never arrives. He finished it in just a few months, faster than he'd ever finished anything he'd ever written. And that was Waiting for Godot (1952). It was first produced in 1952 and became an international sensation.

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