Last year on this day, I celebrated the birth of Samuel Beckett. I do love his work. Although I have come to think that to some extent he’s overrated. Or rather that people appreciate him in the wrong way. For example, much of Waiting for Godot is pure silliness. That’s true of Happy Days and Endgame as well. Act Without Words I is cruel silliness. I’ve read that he was a big admirer of Charlie Chaplin. I don’t doubt that. Look at the business with the hats in Godot. That’s straight out of Vaudeville or silent comedy.
When Beckett is serious, he has a strong tendency toward the sentimental. But he was quite aware of this and so explicitly pushed against it. Look at Ohio Impromptu. It is extremely sentimental, which he manages to avoid focusing on too much with the use of repetition and the knocking. Much the same can be said of Krapp’s Last Tape or even Not I and Footfalls. They are still all brilliant, though.
In the end, I’m not sure what I get out of many of them. Certainly I get a great deal out of Godot and Krapp because I am very interested in those subjects. But a lot of his work is too involved with what can be done in the theater. Too much of it is intellectual more than truly affecting. There is far too much Come and Go, which like everything, I admire. But I don’t think there is too much of a point to his lesser work.
At the same time, I never tire of Waiting for Godot. I never tire Krapp’s Last Tape. But it simply isn’t true that he was always great. And this is despite the fact that he didn’t write that much. And of the few plays he wrote, most were short. Godot is about the only true full length play. Happy Days and Endgame are kind of like theater novellas . Krapp can be too, but it is only 20 short pages long in published form. So it shouldn’t shock us too much that every word was so well chosen given that there weren’t all that many of them.
Still, I do love his work. Here is Rick Cluchey in Krapp’s Last Tape in a production meant to mimic the way that Beckett felt it should be performed. The Beckett on Film version is not so reverential and it works better as a result. But I’m sick of embedding videos from that series because they always end up getting taken down.
Happy birthday Samuel Beckett!