Opening the Gate to Beckett's World

By McNamara, Robert S. | Insight on the News, September 2, 1996 | Go to article overview

Opening the Gate to Beckett's World


McNamara, Robert S., Insight on the News


A troupe of Irish actors and European directors celebrate the works of the great playwright, Samuel Beckett.

The unthinkable -- and the nearly undoable -- happened five years ago in that most literary of cities in the English-speaking world: Dublin. In the space of three weeks, the Gate Theatre mounted every drama written by poet and playwright Samuel Beckett in celebration of the Nobel laureate's life and work. Early this August, the Beckett Festival came to New York, where the late Irishman's 19 works -- one as short as three minutes -- were presented in 12 days at various venues at Lincoln Center.

Despite that he lived in Paris for 50 years, Beckett maintained his native idioms and distinctive Irish speech pattern as well as his Irish perspective upon the world into which he was cast on Good Friday, April 13,1906. Though he has a reputation for black humor Beckett did not surrender to despair. his plays are full of compassion humor, humanity and much love for his fellow man. From Gogo and Didi (the two tramps in Waiting for Godot) to Hamm and Clov (Endgame) and Winnie and Willie (Happy Days) Beckett's universe is populated by couples who never say no. They go on.

The Beckett Festival brought together a disparate group of Irish actors and European directors who have had a long association and collaboration with the playwright, including Beck ett's personal assistant Walter Asmus who staged Waiting for Godot (the play wright's most famous play) and Anton Libera, who directed Endgame (Beck ett's favorite).

Endgame, like Godot, explores; complicated relationship between two odd characters. The tyrant Hamm (the name no doubt associated with "hammer" and meant to suggest Hamlet -- see sidebar) argues berates and oth erwise passes the time with his ser vant, Clov (from the French for "nail" his factotum and lackey. Hamm's parents, Nagg and Nell, live in two metal ashcans downstage of Hamm's throne, relegated to a disposal existence in which everything and everybody are at their last point. The play is an illuminating and brilliant piece of theater that expands a plethora of dramatic conventions, showcasing Beckett's genius as an innovator.

When pressed by critics and journalists about the meaning of his plays, Beckett would only reply in his cryptic Dublinese, "No symbols where none intended." When further queried about why the constantly quarreling Hamm and Clov remain with each other, Beckett answered, "nec tecum, nec sine te" -- not with you, and not without you. And that, it must be noted, appears to sum up many of the dilemmas that Beckett's characters face on the "old muckball," Earth. …

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