So the late Irish playwright is not the first person you imagine wearing a party hat and blowing out birthday candles. Beckett turned 99 on April 13, but the real festivities start for his centenary in 2006, which will feature major events in Dublin, Paris, London, Tokyo and Atlanta.
"The Year of Beckett" promises to be a vibrant city-spanning combination of shows and other activities, partly because so many influential Atlanta theater artists, including writer/director Brenda Bynum and 7 Stages' artistic director Del Hamilton, are such huge Beckett fans. Emory University offers a significant Beckett studies program and plans to publish the first volume of The Letters of Samuel Beckett next year.
Plus, Atlanta theater simply likes a pretext to party, with numerous theaters participating in 2001's Naomi Wallace Festival and 2002's First Glance celebration of new plays.
As a city of transplants, perhaps Atlanta gravitates to Beckett's "citizen of the world" mystique. Since Beckett grew up in Ireland, Theatre Gael has a claim on him and will present the vaudeville tragedy Waiting for Godot in January 2006 at 14th Street Playhouse. Yet Beckett spent many years in Paris and wrote frequently in French, giving French-language Théâtre du Rêve ample cause to stage Footfalls in both English and French in fall 2006.
German Beckett expert Walter Asmus, who directed 7 Stages' pitch-perfect Godot last spring, returns to direct Footfalls and several shows at 7 Stages, including Krapp's Last Tape with Hamilton. Hamilton points out that Beckett's appeal goes beyond the academy and theater establishment. "Young people and visual artists seem to have an affinity with the content that makes intuitive sense to them," he says. Though Dad's Garage Theatre brings out the hip, young audiences, the playhouse plans to stage Play and Ohio Impromptu at its Top Shelf space next fall.
Next March, PushPush Theater gets behind Beckett in a big way, presenting Not I and Endgame (the one that makes Godot look like a walk in the park), followed by a Beckett short play festival in the spring.
I have a theory that Beckett strikes such a universal chord by serving as "the anti-Shakespeare" - the yin to Shakespeare's yang. The Bard's plays, no matter how tragic, represent the fullness of life from the rich characters to the ornate language. Beckett's work, no matter how comic, conveys life's desolation, stripping down dialogue, setting and personality until harsh truths emerge with austere purity. When Atlanta theater gathers for his 100th birthday, maybe someone can write, "The major sin is the sin of being born" in icing on his cake.
FESTIVUS Atlanta doesn't have to wait until 2006 for theatrical festivities. This year, PushPush's Spring Play Festival spotlights New Orleans playwright Lisa D'Amour, including such scripts as A Momentous Act and Three Mutants: Plays About Girls, tentatively scheduled for May 8-June 25.
Whole World Theater's first annual festival of 30-minute plays begins July 14. The main requirement for the Decalogue Play Festival is that each play focuses on one of the Ten Commandments as its central theme. (If you covet participating, Whole World shalt receive submissions through April 29. Visit www.wholeworldtheatre.com.)
For its 20th anniversary, Georgia Shakespeare dropped the word "Festival" from its name, but the company still offers the same three-play summer repertory from June 8-Aug. 7. This year features the slapstick Comedy of Errors with Chris Kayser and Chris Ensweiler, Tennessee Williams' shattering A Streetcar Named Desire with Daniel May as Stanley and Carolyn Cook as Blanche, and Chekhov's bittersweet The Cherry Orchard, featuring all of the above as well as Brad Sherrill and Megan McFarland.
SAY WHAT? In a decision sure to drive the marketers to distraction, the Alliance Theatre has picked ...," said Said as the winning play of its annual Graduate Playwriting Competition. Scheduled to open in April 2006, ...," said Said concerns Nobel-winning poet Andre Said and was written by Kenneth Lin, soon to graduate from the Yale School of Drama.
Also, the voice of the Alliance will resound in an unusual fashion when artistic director Susan V. Booth joins the cast of 7 Stages' Wizzer Pizzer, opening May 7. In the play's contemporary, transgendered riff on The Wizard of Oz, Booth plays the Wizard character, a Dr. Laura-style authority figure that appears only in voice-over and on video. Pay no attention to that artistic director behind the curtain.
Finally, True Colors Theatre Company announced that it will replace Ceremonies in Dark Old Men with Flyin' West by Atlanta playwright Pearl Cleage (and directed by talented former Atlantan Andrea Frye) on the Alliance main stage July 18-31 in conjunction with the National Black Arts Festival.
Off Script is a biweekly column on the Atlanta theater scene.
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