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Saturday, June 16, 2012

1978: BAM Theatre Company's Waiting for Godot

Waiting for Godot. Photo: Thomas Victor
There have been several star-driven New York productions of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. Most recently, Nathan Lane, Bill Irwin, John Goodman, and John Glover received positive reviews for the 2009 Roundabout Theater production at Studio 54 on Broadway. In 1988, the very high-profile Lincoln Center Theater off-Broadway production of Waiting for Godot starred Robin Williams, Steve Martin, F. Murray Abraham, and Bill Irwin, and was directed by Mike Nichols. It was a much-debated production.

The BAM Theatre Company production of Godot in 1978 is one that also bears remembering. Based on a production in German that Beckett himself directed at BAM a year earlier, this one was directed by Beckett’s assistant, Walter D. Asmus, at the Lepercq Space. It starred Sam Waterston, Austin Pendleton, Milo O’Shea, and Michael Egan. Earlier this year, Pendleton spoke to the New York Post theater critic Elisabeth Vincentelli about his memorable experience:
"It was this production of 'Godot' that almost, literally, ended my acting career. Or, looked at it another way, saved it. Beckett had directed his own production of 'Godot' at the Schiller Theatre in Berlin the year before, in his own German translation. That production had been brought to BAM, in German, with the German actors, in 1977, and got some of the most astonishingly good reviews I've ever read. Frank [Dunlop] asked Beckett to come over and direct five American actors in his company in it. Beckett had no desire to set foot in the United States, but sent his assistant, a brilliant young German director named Walter Asmus, to reproduce his [Beckett's] work. And reproduce it Walter did, down to each gesture and each line reading, even though those readings were based on the German translation.

"The rehearsals were astoundingly contentious. I, for example, once climbed a tall ladder attached to the wall, and threatened to jump if Walter gave me one more direction. Gradually, though, we began, somehow, all of us to get on the same page (or at least in the same chapter) with Walter, who had been the Soul of Patience through this whole experience. Whereupon I began the second act thinking, well, what the hell, why don't I just let everything go and listen to Sam Waterston? So intent was I in trying to carry though the directions that I had never actually listened to Sam. Whereupon everything, all the directions, everything, became miraculously easy to do. The applause that night at the end was actually triple what it had been. And from that time on the run was like a very, very fine dream."
Still waiting....

Michael Messina, BAM Archives

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