Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Obscure Godot-related Outrage 

It's highly likely that nobody reading this will care. I guess that's one of the good things about having a blog.

In my salad days as a theatre major, I was entranced by the works of Samuel Beckett in general and Waiting for Godot in particular. I directed a highly successful production of it as a senior honors project at Otterbein - if you define "highly successful" as "having about 50 people show up and getting an 'A'". (Which is, incidentally, how I define it.)

The most legendary American production of Godot took place at San Quentin prison - but a more popular production took place in 1988 at Lincoln Center. It starred Steve Martin and Robin Williams, and was directed by Mike Nichols. The thing I'd always read about it was that - while something of a critical hit - it was despised by Beckett and his close acquaintances. Beckett was fiercely protective of his work - and he desperately wanted all productions of his plays do be done exactly as he envisioned them. He would not - for example - allow a production of Endgame that was set in a New York subway. He would not allow any version of Godot to be done with females. (I forget the exact quote - but he said it would be like putting a soprano in a baritone part.)

A few days ago, I was watching a PBS special on Bill Irwin - who also appeared in the Lincoln Center production. I'd never seen any clips from the production - but I saw one on this special. I was appalled and disgusted to hear Robin Williams and Steve Martin adding improvised lines during Lucky's monologue. The comic business they were doing was profoundly inappropriate. To me, it seemed that Robin Williams especially could not let his ego get out of the way of Beckett's words. I won't go into what the "point" of Waiting for Godot is - suffice to say, I don't think it's supposed to be a vehicle for a wacky evening on Broadway with TV's Mork.

Of course, what sort of hypocrite am I? I cast a female in the role of "Boy" - mostly because I couldn't find a child actor willing to be in an Otterbein workshop project. I know my production was more fluid than Beckett would have wanted - not to mention that I didn't even include the sun/moon backdrop that he called for. But I admit that I either couldn't do it or was afraid to push it all the way - what excuse does Williams have? He just couldn't help turning it into his own kind of joke. And it's too bad - because if he had done it right he could have been really good.

Nothing to be done.
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