- Kathryn Rathke
This summer and fall, a bunch of Seattle theater artists, established and new, have pooled their resources to soak the city with the not-terribly-summery plays of Irish writer Samuel Beckett. (Some would protest that he’s more French than Irish, after all he rejected Ireland for France and wrote many works in French—but he never fully escaped his homeland and remained nettled in a Franco-Anglo-Irish embrace while living in perpetual exile. That neither-here-nor-there stain is tattooed across his entire body of work.)
AJ Epstein, founder of West of Lenin, said the Seattle Beckett Festival came together as a particular expression of the Seattle theater community at this moment. “One could make the argument that Seattle [now] has a higher concentration of ‘theater nerds’ than other cities,” he said, and that those nerds are “more focused on craft than the rat race like other large theatre cities. Folks stay here and work because of the love for the art and our collaborators, less than to make a living at it. Not to say that everyone doesn’t wish that it was more possible for theater work to be more lucrative, though… it’s a subtle distinction, but I’ve noticed it.”
Whatever the reason, the time seemed right to Epstein, along with Seattle Shakespeare Company, ACT Theatre, and many smaller companies, to try a Beckett blitz—everything from major theater artists taking on Waiting for Godot to smaller collaborations poking at his stark, obsessive, pathetic, difficult, but also vaudeville-comical explorations of solitude and ambivalence about the company of others: Act Without Words, Rough for Theatre, Rockaby, and more.
Beckett’s known for mystifying language and technical starkness. Godot famously begins with the design direction: “A country road. A tree. Evening.” But he’s also a democratizing force—which also makes his work ripe for a festival in a city like Seattle, where the theater community is in the middle of a particularly active conversation with itself. Whether you’re an established institution like ACT Theatre or the bold and energetic newcomers of Blood Ensemble, the bar to entry into a Beckett production is materially low but theatrically high.
You don’t need money. All you need is brains and guts—and those are much harder to come by. He’s what we know is coming (so far) in this year’s Seattle Beckett Festival:
Life = Play (An Evening of Short Works and Rarities by Samuel Beckett), West of Lenin, Aug 13 through 24: AJ Epstein and Carol Roscoe direct some of Beckett’s lesser-performed works including Come and Go, Act Without Words I, and Rockaby. And M. Burke Walker performs La Derniére Bande (Krapp’s Last Tape performed en Français with supertitles).
Beckett 101, West of Lenin, Sept 18 and Nov 13: Pre-show introductions to Beckett led by English professors and Beckett enthusiasts.
Waiting for Godot, ACT Theatre, Sept 4 through Sept 21: This co-production with Seattle Shakespeare Company is being staged by an extremely promising group of artists: director George Mount and actors Todd Jefferson Moore, Darragh Kennan, Chris Ensweiler, and Jim Hamerlinck. If you’ve never seen Beckett’s most famous play about two men waiting for someone who never arrives, this is an excellent chance.
An Excerpt from Happy Days, New Century Theatre Company at Solo Bar, Sept 15: Stranger Genius Award-winner Amy Thone reads excerpts of Beckett’s “happy play” (written at the request of his wife) featuring a not-young woman buried up to her “big bosom” in a giant mound of earth.
First Love, A Company for Now at the Lee Center for the Arts, Sept 25: Three works—Not I, Krapp’s Last Tape, and Footfall—read by Kate Wisniewski, Sean G. Griffin, and Lisa Norman and Ki Gottberg. Directed by Rosa Joshi.
Poetry and Play, Eclectic Theater, Sept 26 through 27: Ten Beckett poems followed by his one-act Play, in which a man and two women are stuck in urns. Directed by Kim Deskin.
First Love, Book-It Theatre at Center Theatre in the Seattle Center Armory, Oct 10: Book-It reads Beckett’s novella First Love.
Sandbox Radio Live: Beckett on the Radio, ACT Theatre, Oct 13: The Sandbox Artists Collective presents radio-style renditions of Words and Music and All That Fall, scored with live music and sound effects. Featuring Eric Ray Anderson, Kurt Beattie, Leslie Law, Marianne Owen, Seanjohn Walsh, Richard Ziman, and others.
An Evening of Beckett-Inspired Music and Comedy, Couth Buzzard Books, Oct 17: Beckett-inspired music and comedy but yet-unnamed persons.
5 by Beckett, Sound Theatre Company at ACT Theatre, Oct 30 through Nov 9: Which five? Act Without Words I and II, Rough for Theatre I and II, and Catastrophe.
Endgame/NDGM, the Ballard Underground, Oct 31 through Nov 22: Ghost Light Theatricals will stage Endgame, featuring a blind man who cannot stand, his servant who cannot sit, and two people living in dustbins. And then, as a “response” to the play, Blood Ensemble will stage something they’ve titled NDGM. Those Blood Ensemble kids, who most recently staged their multi-generational, evening-length Barn Show in a barn in Marysville, are nothing if not bold.
Fail Better; Beckett Moves UMO, ACT Theatre, Nov 13 through Nov 22: The UMO Ensemble emphasizes the movement and physicality of Beckett with an evening of clowning, “balancing on a giant teeter-totter, juggling tin cans, and suspending on ropes from two giant pulleys.”
For more details and updates, see seattlebeckettfest.org.