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Natka Bianchini (Tufts University)
Bare Interiors, Chicken Wire Cages and Subway Stations—Re-thinking Beckett’s Response to the ART Endgame in Light of Earlier Productions

When Beckett sought to halt performances of the American Repertory Theatre’s (Cambridge, MA) production of Endgame directed by JoAnne Akalaitis in December 1984, he had the attention of the international theatrical community. The dispute, which centered largely on the changed setting of the play from the specified stage directions, was ultimately settled out of court. The performances continued, albeit with a program insert with statements by Beckett and Barney Rosset of Grove Press, denouncing the production. Shortly after this experience, Beckett amended the contract that licenses his plays in production to include a clause that prohibits any changes to the text, setting or stage directions as specified in the script. For twenty years, the public perception of Beckett as a rigid and recalcitrant playwright has persisted, formed largely on the basis on this sole event. Although frequently referenced, multiple myths and inconsistencies surround the way this event is talked about in both public and academic discourse. This paper seeks to reexamine the controversy surrounding Beckett’s response to the 1984 production in light of new evidence and interviews, and in light of Beckett’s response to two earlier productions of Endgame in the United States: Andre Gregory’s 1973 Manhattan Project Endgame, and Alan Schneider’s 1958 American premiere. By examining Beckett’s reaction to Gregory’s production, which also radically deviated from his text, but drew a surprisingly different response from Beckett, and by understanding his relationship with his American director Alan Schneider, one will see clearly that Beckett was often flexible and permissive in regards to his work in performance, and that it was only later in his life, after mounting distress in response to several years of directorial meddling, that Beckett became more inflexible.
Through use of primary source material, including letters (many of them never published) from Beckett, Rosset, Schneider, Robert Brustein (founder and then artistic director of the ART), and Robert Orchard (executive director of the ART), as well as private ART memos and telegrams, and interviews with both Orchard, Akalaitis, Gregory and Rosset, I have reconstructed the sequence of Beckett’s response to each production. By so doing, I hope to elucidate some of the reasons for Beckett’s response in 1984, and to understand how he felt about his work in performance. The events of 1984 have raised important questions regarding who owns the rights of theatrical interpretation and whether Beckett’s plays require more stringent adherence to stage directions than other playwrights, questions I hope to explore in this paper, and to posit plausible conclusions.

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