by Samuel Beckett
This production included twenty lines from Beckett’s original French edition that the author had dropped from his own translation, but, fifty years ago, had written to Cohen that “you are free to put them back if you wish” (see below program note). The designs were by Darcy Prevost (scenery), Lonnie Alcaraz (lighting), Christa Mathis (costumes) and Vinnie Olivieri (sound); the actors are identified in the photos. The play included a brief “pregame” (preshow) and ran for five sold-out performances. As a one-weekend Faculty Workshop, the production was not reviewed by outside press, but the UCI student newspaper, under the headline “Precision, Perfection in Endgame” declared it “a dazzling performance.”
DIRECTOR’S PROGRAM NOTE
Forty-eight years ago next month, I received a letter from Samuel Beckett authorizing me to “put back in” certain lines he had dropped from his texts when translating Waiting for Godot and Endgame from French into English. “I leave the translation to you,” he added.
You will thus hear twenty short speeches in tonight’s performance that have never before been performed – legally at least – in English versions of this play, which is widely considered to be one of the two or three great masterpieces of twentieth century drama.
I was introduced to Beckett’s work (and indeed, his name) by my high school English teacher, Margaret Casey, in 1956 when, in the middle of a senior class on Shakespeare, she decided to talk about contemporary writers – and mentioned the emergence of beatnik poets in San Francisco and a French playwright named Samuel Beckett, whose Waiting for Godot had just failed dismally in Miami but was nonetheless headed to New York. So I scurried down to my favorite bookstore – a quaint establishment in Washington, D.C.’s Georgetown – and picked the single Grove Press copy off the shelf, devouring it on the bus as I headed home. At Dartmouth College the following year, I loaned the book to Henry Williams, a professor of drama on our campus (which had no drama department but still produced four faculty-directed plays a year), with the suggestion that he direct it; Henry fell in love with the play as I had, and staged the first-ever college production of it the following year; I was his stage manager. We were a great success, and brought the first act to the first-ever college theatre festival in the U.S., held at Yale, where it simply brought down the house.
Later that year, an English literature Professor told all of us in his sophomore class that we should forgo spending spring break with our families and instead should head to New York and see some plays. So I took his advice, spending a weekend in Manhattan where I saw the Broadway premiere of Blue Denim, a sturdy realistic play about teenage pregnancy, and Beckett’s Endgame, which was having its American debut at the off-Broadway Cherry Lane Theatre – with Lester Rawlins as Hamm and Alvin Epstein as Clov, both unforgettable. Returning to Dartmouth, I wrote a review of the two plays, announcing that Blue Denim was a work of the past and that Beckett was the writer for the future.
That was to be my last full year at Dartmouth. In the middle of my junior year I transferred to UC Berkeley, where there was a Drama Department and by the following summer I had added Drama as a second major (to my existing Political Science degree program). My senior drama projects turned out to be directing an undergraduate production of Waiting for Godot and writing a paper on the parallels between the works of author/dramatist Beckett and essayist/theologian Simone Weil. Both happily proved successful: the Godot production was picked up by a professional producer for a month-long run in San Francisco (where I took over the role of Pozzo), and my paper was published in Modern Drama. My professional career, therefore, as both director and scholar, began with the work of the remarkable Mr. Beckett.
During the Godot rehearsals (this was the Fall of 1960), I had the temerity to write Beckett a question about his text. To my astonishment, he replied. I had asked him (after an introductory paragraph in which I shamelessly cited fifteen of his earlier poems and essays) why he had cut two lines out of his English translation of En Attendant Godot. The lines translated as “ESTRAGON: Let’s go. VLADIMIR: Where? This evening, maybe we’ll sleep at his [i.e. Godot’s] house, where it’s warm, it’s dry.” This line seemed to me extremely important, because elsewhere Vladimir chides Estragon with, “You’re not going to compare yourself with Christ… where he lived it was warm, it was dry,” thus these two lines confirm what almost everyone now understands: the non-present character of “Godot” is clearly linked – in these characters’ minds at least – with the non-present Christian godhead. To my delight, Beckett’s reply acknowledged that the omission of the line “is a mistake and the line should be restored.” He then continued, “I leave the translation to you.”
So I translated and replaced the omitted Godot dialogue for my 1960 production, and the reasoning was detailed in my paper in Modern Drama.
But that was only part of the letter. In a second paragraph Mr. Beckett also acknowledged another omission in Godot, revealing it had been “cut during Paris rehearsals because the scene dragged.” And that an entire scene – “of the boy seen from [the] window toward [the] end of Endgame was similarly reduced in the English translation,” concluding, “I think these lines merely labour the point. But you are free to put them back if you wish.”
Well, I am now taking him up and reinserting these equally significant speeches toward the end of the Endgame. These lines also serve to confirm a godhead – one more universal than before, as it includes Christian, Jewish and Buddhist referents – latent in the vision of, if not Beckett himself, Beckett’s characters.
And I’d also like to draw attention to the auxiliary phrases already cited. That Beckett would cut language “because the scene dragged” removes him from the category of sainted literary purist and places him squarely in the practical world of the dramatist in the rehearsal hall. Despite his canonical statements to the contrary (“Success and failure on the public level never mattered much to me”), Beckett seems to have had no qualms in cutting material he thought would bore the audience. And the second line, that the cut lines would “labour the point,” makes it clear that Beckett was seeking to make points – again despite his avowals to the contrary, including the canonical “My work is a matter of fundamental sounds [no joke intended] made as fully as possible, and I accept responsibility for nothing else…,” and “I… refuse to be involved in exegesis of any kind…”, for example.
But whatever points are to be labored will not be done so by any “director’s exegesis” of Mr. Beckett’s work. In our staging, we have tried to concentrate on the human values of the play rather than seeking to directly present its (plentiful) philosophic, allegoric, religious, socio-political or metatheatrical themes. It is a the fin de partie we must all experience: the end of the game, the end of the party, the end of departing.
Robert Cohen, director.