Wednesday, January 3, 2024

the last book I ever read (The Slip: The New York City Street That Changed American Art Forever, excerpt five)

from The Slip: The New York City Street That Changed American Art Forever by Prudence Peiffer:

“The war years,” as James Knowlson wrote, “had revealed the concrete reality of waiting.” It was in this environment, in late 1948 and early 1949, that Samuel Beckett wrote En Attendant Godot (later translated into English by Beckett as Waiting for Godot). The existential parrying of the play’s two central characters as they wait for someone who never arrives came right out of Beckett’s own street life and experience in Paris. Godot was finally produced in full in 1953, at Théâtre de Babylone in Paris, directed by Delphine Seyrig’s acting teacher, Roger Blin.

The production went up thanks to the support of Seyrig, who staked an inheritance from her aunt at a moment when she and Youngerman were living hand-to-mouth in Paris, just down the street from where Beckett wrote most of the play. Youngerman didn’t question his wife’s decision. When Miette worried over the use of this money, her daughter replied, “You simply have to read the script,” which she found stunning, bleak, funny, and unlike anything she’d heard before. Her commitment to acting and supporting art transcended superficial comforts—a commitment that would help buoy her and Youngerman when they first moved to New York and were setting up their bare-bones apartment at the Slip.

Opening night was January 3, 1953. Godot went from avant-garde word of mouth to a cultural sensation for the forty-year-old writer; it was a complete game changer, signaling both “the end of his anonymity and the beginning of his theatrical and financial success.” The “talk of theatrical Paris,” Godot seemed to channel the absurd and complex condition of the city after the war.

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