By Edward Sobel, Associate Artistic Director
I first fell in love with the work of Samuel Beckett when I was in college. At eighteen, what I perceived as aridly funny nihilism held irresistible appeal. In the intervening years I’ve strayed promiscuously, but have often returned, and never fully left. Now, as I sit squarely in the advancing shadow of middle age, I know this lover differently.
I chose to direct Endgame this season while I was reading a number of new plays from American writers that seemed to be confronting loss. Not personal psychological grief, although that was present, but loss as it has an impact on a wider community. It seemed to be in our zeitgeist. Perhaps we are now distant enough from one of our latest national tragedies that we are trying to process the impact.
Beckett’s own world view, as many artists of his time, was informed by experiences during World War II; in Beckett’s case including direct participation in the French Resistance under German occupation. As I write this, one American community and by extension all of us, has suffered a tremendous, heartbreaking loss. Each time such a thing happens, I find myself thinking, well surely this is the last. We can’t be punished anymore. Then I remember World War I, which Beckett also lived through, was called the “War to End All Wars”. Until it didn’t.
It seems I must accept that personal and communal calamity, destruction, cruelty and inhumanity are inevitable. As Beckett has Didi say in Waiting for Godot, “Astride of a grave and a difficult birth … Down in the hole, lingeringly, the gravedigger puts on the forceps.”
Beckett also wrote a phrase in his notebook: “Do not despair, one of the thieves was saved. Do not presume, one of the thieves was damned. ” He said he was not so much interested in the theology of the saying, but in its shape. That in his drama, every darkness contains the “perhaps” of light.
If it is true, if things like slavery, oppression, violence and war will always happen, if the thief is damned, then so do we also always have opportunity to respond. The possibility remains of being wiser, more forgiving, more compassionate, of laughing and loving more than we did the last time. One of the thieves was saved. What we do with our perpetual calamity, as individuals or as a country, is up to us. Such is the nature of hope in this world.
Making plays is an act of optimism. While you may never be sure that what you are saying has any value and that you haven’t just messed up your own life for nothing, you live in the faith that the creative act animates possibility, even if only for an hour and a quarter, in the dark.
Making a play is also a communal act, and I have been given the gift of an exceptional family of actors and designers, all of whom have dedicated their considerable talents to this production with a fervor that has been inspiring. I am grateful to them, and to you our audiences, for being willing to enter Beckett’s unique theater with us.
So here we are. I am stuck with Beckett, and apparently for this production anyway, him with me. And you with us. And all of us with each other. What are we going to do now?
A version of these notes appear in the stagebill for the Arden’s production of Endgame