Wednesday, May 26, 2021

571. WAITING FOR GODOT. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Henderson Forsythe, Edward Winter, Paul B. Price. (Photos: Alan B. Tepper.)
WAITING FOR GODOT [Dramatic Revival] A: Samuel Beckett; D: Alan Schneider; DS: William Ritman; P: Edgar Lansbury, Mark Wright, and Joseph Beruh i/a/w Stuart Duncan and H.B. Lutz; T: Sheridan Square Playhouse (OB); 2/3/71-10/3/71 (277)

David Jay, Joey Faye, Tom Ewell, Larry Bryggman, Tom Rosqui.

In the years following its first New York production in 1956 (from which present director Alan Schneider had been fired during the play’s now famous pre-New York tryout), there had been several short-lived New York revivals of Waiting for Godot. By 1970 its status as a world-acclaimed, avant-garde masterpiece was assured and an important revival of it was overdue. (New York has seen many since.)

As Schneider held the rights to its local performance, and was unwilling to release them to another director, it was only natural that he would want to stage the play and, through its performance, rectify the “error” Michael Myerberg had made in removing him 14 years earlier. (Schneider, however, had directed the play in Houston in 1959 and on TV in 1960.) Most of the critics thought the new mounting vindicated the director for his earlier embarrassment, and the show had a decent Off-Broadway run.

Paul B. Price, Henderson Forsythe, Anthony Holland, Edward Winter. 

Although the actors were well-established stage and screen presences, none were on the big-name level that ultimately came to be associated with the show’s most noteworthy revivals, such as the current streaming version starring Ethan Hawke, John Leguizimo, and Wallace Shawn. Paul B. Price played Estragon, Henderson Forsythe was Vladimir, Anthony Holland was Lucky, Edward Winter was Pozzo, and David Jay was A Boy. During the run, several first-line actors served as replacements, among them Warren Pincus for Estragon and Vladimir, Joey Faye for Estragon, Jordan Charney and Tom Ewell (from the 1956 production) for Vladimir, Tom Rosqui for Lucky, and Larry Bryggman for Pozzo. (For my reviews of two relatively recent New York revivals, one in Yiddish, the other starring Sirs Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart, click here.)

Richard Watts thought it “beautifully done in every respect,” capturing all the play’s “remarkable qualities.” Edith Oliver extolled it as “an extremely well-done work. . . . My . . . interest . . . never let up. . . . I found it full of wit and surprises (although not moving).” It was a “very finely revived” version, agreed Clive Barnes, “given just the right mixture of love, sympathy, and that fugitive understanding of man’s heroic futility that Beckett is all about.”

Opposing viewpoints came from T.E. Kalem, Martin Gottfried, and Harold Clurman. The first declared the play to be boring, by no means a masterpiece, and widely popular only because of a vogue for plays that speak “to the inner spirit of an age that is anti-heroic, narcissistic, self-pitying, and prone to believe that man’s journey through life is a plotless shuttle from nothing to nowhere.” Still, he added, this “revival is as good as one can legitimately imagine.” Gottfried, on the other hand, loved the play, but derided the direction as depressing, unamusing, academic, and lacking Beckett’s spirit. To Clurman the staging was overly busy, and the play badly served by Schneider’s “jazzed-up mounting.”

Holland’s Lucky and Forsythe’s Vladimir (a.k.a. Didi) were the most highly praised performances.

Do you enjoy Theatre’s Leiter Side? As you may know, since New York’s theatres were forced into hibernation by Covid-19, this blog has provided daily posts on the hundreds of shows that opened in the city, Off and on Broadway, between 1970 and 1975. These have been drawn from an unpublished manuscript that would have been part of my multivolume Encyclopedia of the New York Stage series, which covers every show, of every type, from 1920 through 1950. Unfortunately, the publisher, Greenwood Press, decided it was too expensive to continue the project beyond 1950.

Before I began offering these 1970-1975 entries, however, Theatre’s Leiter Side posted over 1,600 of my actual reviews for shows from 2012 through 2020. The first two years of that experience were published in separate volumes for 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 (the latter split into two volumes). The 2012-2013 edition also includes a memoir in which I describe how, when I was 72, I used the opportunity of suddenly being granted free access to every New York show to begin writing reviews of everything I saw. Interested readers can find these collections on by clicking here. 

Next up: Waiting for Mongo