Theatre

The Theater Dictionary: A Free Video Guide to Theatre Lingo

in English Language, Language Lessons, Theatre | January 27th, 2017

It’s 11 o’clock. Do you know where your showstoppers are? Or, more to the point, do you know why a musical-comedy writing team seeks to orient its showstopping number at “eleven o’clock”?

The Theater Development Fund’s Theatre Dictionary is an ongoing attempt to define and document theater terms for both the rabble and any budding practitioners who’ve yet to master the lingo.



Each term is accompanied by a loopy slapdash skit. Not all of the performers exhibit the pedigree Veronica J. Kuehn and Nick Kohn of Avenue Q bring to “Eleven O’Clock Number,” above, but casting administrators and ticket booth reps in starring roles lend a homey egalitarianism, such as when students from the Yale School of Drama’s Department of Dramaturgy and Dramatic Criticism are given free license to explore the origins of “vom.”

(This loosey goosey approach also allows for uncredited appearances by other theatrical tropes—the marathon rehearsals where popcorn constitutes lunch and one actor repeatedly complains that his work has been insufficiently acknowledged.)

A “What Does This Word Mean” tab for each term anchors the video silliness, providing historical and anecdotal context. It’s in keeping with the Dictionary’s greater goal of bringing theater to the people, letting everyone play with the toys.

Some of the definitions are practical shorthand…

Others are couched in longtime, possibly archaic theater lore…

I’d exercise caution with some of this lingo. Even though many of these terms are born of practicality, overusing them may cause others to view you as the most obnoxious of self-declared Triple Threats, the kid in the comedy-tragedy mask sweatshirt, prone to belting out the entire soundtrack of CATS at the slightest provocation. (“Thanks, 5!!!”)

Some of these terms have unexpected crossover appeal, most recently Ghost Light, above. Knowing the meaning of the term will help you better appreciate the power of the Ghostlight Project, a post-election coming together of theater artists and audiences in defense and support of vulnerable communities.

You can browse the Theater Dictionary complete glossary here or watch the videos on TDF’s Youtube channel.

The Theater Dictionary’s FAQ contains information on how professional theatre companies and organizations and college-level theatre programs can apply to contribute a video.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Her play Zamboni Godot is opening in New York City in March 2017. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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Tim Robbins’ Improv Classes Transform Prisoners’ Lives & Lower Recidivism Rates

in Comedy, Life, Politics, Psychology, Theatre | December 5th, 2016

If a 20-something, Yale-educated New Yorker reporter feels nervous stepping in to her first ever improv class, imagine the stakes for your average inmate, whose survival depends on a successfully monolithic projection of toughness and control.

Control is actually something the Actors’ Gang Prison Project seeks to cultivate in its incarcerated participants. The Actors’ Gang’s Artistic Director, Tim Robbins, who founded the radically experimental ensemble fresh out of college, notes a well-documented connection between an inability to control one’s emotions and criminal activity.

Unchecked rage may have put these players behind bars, but exploring a wide variety of emotions behind the safety of the Actors’ Gang’s mask-like white pancake make-up has proven liberating.

The dull prison routine leaves prisoners favorably inclined toward any diverting activity, particularly those that allow for creative expression. Shakespeare has made an impact on this population. Why not commedia dell’arte-influenced improv?

It’s a truly therapeutic fit, as Actors Gang ensemble member Sabra Williams, the founder of the Prison Project, explains in her TED Talk, below.

Participants are subjected and held to the rigorous physicality and emotional honesty at the core of this group’s aesthetic. Personal connection to the visitors is limited to whatever may transpire in-the-moment, but within the prison population, relationships blossom. Both guards and prisoners speak of newfound empathy.

The emotional insights arising from these spontaneous explorations teach participants how to diffuse aggressive situations, present a more positive face to the world, and interact generously with others. In between classes, participants write in journals, with a goal of sharing aloud.

Gang signs, mimed weapons, and bodily contact are out of bounds. Wild invention often carries the day.

Participants have zero recidivism, and a waiting list in the hundreds attests to the program’s popularity.

You can learn more about the Actors’ Gang ten-year-old Prison Project here.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Her play Zamboni Godot is opening in New York City in March 2017. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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A Whiskey-Fueled Lin-Manuel Miranda Reimagines Hamilton as a Girl on Drunk History

in Comedy, History, Television, Theatre | December 2nd, 2016

Back in July of 1804, when Vice President Aaron Burr fired a fatal round into the abdomen of former Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, I wonder which scenario would have seemed more implausible: that these political rivals would one day be resurrected in the form of a black guy and a Nuyorican, or as two young women in revealingly snug breeches, above.

Time moves on. These days, your average Hamilton-obsessed pre-teen may have trouble accepting that there was a time—January 2015, to be exact—when most Americans couldn’t say what the guy on the ten dollar bill was famous for.

I confess, until quite recently, I was far more confident in Arrested Developments fictional Bluth family’s exploits than any involving Hamilton and Burr. This explains, in part, why I’m so drawn to the casting instincts of Derek Waters’, creator of Drunk History

The most recent episode features Alia Shawkat, one of my favorite Arrested Development players as a sardonic, potty mouthed Hamilton.

No worries that Drunk History, which bills itself as a “liquored-up narration of our nation’s history,” is the latest in a long line of Johnny-Come-Latelys, eagerly bellying up to the Hamilton trough.

Before Shawkat imbued him with her trademark edge, Drunk History’s Hamilton exuded the befuddled sweetness of Shawkat’s besotted Arrested Development cousinMichael Cera, who originated the part in a video that gave rise to the series, below.

That one’s far sloppier, and not just in terms of production values. The inaugural narrator, Mark Gagliardi, was rendered a good deal more than three sheets to the wind by the bottle of scotch he downed on a sagging brown velour couch.

America would not want to see its current sweetheart, Hamilton’s playwright and original leading man, Lin-Manuel Miranda in such a condition.

Whereas Gagliardi seemed dangerously close to needing the bucket Waters thoughtfully positioned nearby, a whiskey-fuelled Miranda seems merely the tiniest bit buzzed, sitting cross legged in his parent’s living room, fleshing out Hamilton’s story with bits he didn’t manage to cram into his Pulitzer Prize-winning musical, such as a bewigged Tony Hale (aka Buster Bluth) as James Monroe.

On the other hand, he does describe the Reynolds Pamphlet as “Dick 101” (and failed to recall FaceTiming various friends post-recording) so…

You’ll need a Comedy Central subscription to view the complete episode online, but Shawkat’s earlier Drunk History turn as Grover Cleveland’s “It Girl” wife, Frances, is free for all, here.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Her play Zamboni Godot is opening in New York City in March 2017. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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We’re Gonna Build a Fourth Wall, and Make the Brechtians Pay for It

in Current Affairs, Theatre, Twitter | November 20th, 2016

fourth-wall

By now, you undoubtedly know what happened when Mike Pence went to see Hamilton on Friday night. And the brouhaha that unfolded from there, particularly on Twitter.

Tweets came and went throughout the weekend. But, if you’re keeping score at home, none outfunnied this tweet from Jeremy Noel-Tod. We’re suckers around here for Brechtian humor.

Find us on Twitter at @openculture.

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The Cast of Hamilton Sends a Strong Message to Mike Pence (After the Crowd Jeers Him)

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The Cast of Hamilton Sends a Strong Message to Mike Pence (After the Crowd Jeers Him)

in Current Affairs, Politics, Theatre | November 18th, 2016

When Mike Pence entered the Richard Rodgers Theatre to see Hamilton Friday night, the crowd booed him.

When the play ended, the cast sent Pence off with a special message. Speaking for the cast, Brandon Victor Dixon, the actor who plays Aaron Burr, said this:

You know we have a guest in the audience this evening. Vice President-elect Pence I see you walking out but I hope you will hear us just a few more moments.

There is nothing to boo here ladies and gentlemen, we are all sharing a story of love. We have a message for you sir, and we hope you will hear us out…

Vice President-elect Mike Pence we welcome you and we truly thank you for joining us here at Hamilton, an American Musical.

We, sir, we are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents or defend us or uphold our inalienable rights, sir. But we truly hope this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us.

We truly thank you for sharing this show, this wonderful American story told by a diverse group of men and women of different colors, creeds and orientations.

Trump and Pence came to office exploiting racial, national and ethnic resentments across America. They’re now putting figures like Steve Bannon and Jeff Sessions (both tarnished by allegations of racism) in positions of power. And we’re seeing hate crimes on the rise. (701  reported cases since the election.) It’s no surprise that the new government is getting taken to task. It’s free speech in action, democracy being the sometimes raucous, in your face thing it can be.

Fortunately Pence seems to have a finer appreciation of the role dissent plays in our country: He has since told The Hollywood Reporter, “I did hear what was said from the stage, and I can tell you, I wasn’t offended by what was said.” “It was a real joy to be there. When we arrived, we heard a few boos and a few cheers, and I nudged my kids and reminded them, ‘That’s what freedom sounds like.” Kudos to him.

In other culture/education news, Donald Trump has agreed to pay $25 million to settle his Trump University fraud case.

Follow Open Culture on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google Plus, and Flipboard and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. And if you want to make sure that our posts definitely appear in your Facebook newsfeed, just follow these simple steps.

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Hear Marilyn Monroe’s Acting Teacher, Lee Strasberg, Deliver a Moving Eulogy at Her Funeral (1962)

in Film, Life, Theatre | October 28th, 2016

Goodbye, Norma Jean…

Marilyn Monroe’s stardom is truly legendary. Her image generates millions of dollars annually. From high-end memorabilia to lunchboxes, fridge magnets, and other cheap trinkets, the world still can’t get enough of her, nearly fifty-five years after her death.

Her acting talent was considerable, but by and large that is not what she’s celebrated for. Speaking at her funeral, her mentor Lee Strasberg, the Artistic Director of the Actors Studio, lamented that “the public who loved her did not have the opportunity to see her as we did, in many of the roles that foreshadowed what she would have become.” In his opinion, the movie star’s true destiny pegged her to become “one of the finest American stage actresses of all time.”



Actor Martin Landau remembered Monroe steeling herself to get up in front of her Actors Studio classmates for the first time, in a scene from Eugene O’Neill’s Anna Christie with Maureen Stapleton.

Alas, this is not the sort of Monroe moment posterity preserves on a beach tote or sequined t-shirt.

Strasberg’s moving 1962 eulogy, above, acknowledged both the 31 intimates invited to her final send off, and the crowds outside the gate. Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and Sammy Davis, Jr. were among the luminaries denied entry. Monroe’s former husband, baseball great Joe DiMaggio banned a whole pantheon of Hollywood movers and shakers, along with the public.

If it wasn’t for them, she’d still be here,” he told her lawyer, Mickey Rudin.

Studio execs had little regard for the actress’ wellbeing, but Strasberg was both teacher and father figure, allowing her beyond the usual professional boundaries to become a de facto, if problematic, member of the family. As his daughter, Monroe’s friend, actress Susan Strasberg wrote:

Marilyn broke all the rules I was expected to follow. She was unpredictable, but he didn’t yell at her. He constantly validated her. With her, Pop was vulnerable, paternal, permissive. With me he was impersonal, critical, forbidding. What was I doing wrong? Why didn’t he give me permission to be myself as he did her?”

DiMaggio had originally hoped that poet Carl Sandburg might be available to orate at Monroe’s funeral. When Sandburg declined due to ill health, the sad duty fell to Strasberg, who turned out to be uniquely prepared to fulfill this role.

The complete text of Lee Strasberg’s eulogy for Marilyn Monroe is below, as is a short documentary on her involvement with the Actors Studio.

Marilyn Monroe was a legend.

In her own lifetime she created a myth of what a poor girl from a deprived background could attain. For the entire world she became a symbol of the eternal feminine.

But I have no words to describe the myth and the legend. I did not know this Marilyn Monroe. We gathered here today, knew only Marilyn – a warm human being, impulsive and shy, sensitive and in fear of rejection, yet ever avid for life and reaching out for fulfillment. I will not insult the privacy of your memory of her – a privacy she sought and treasured – by trying to describe her whom you knew to you who knew her. In our memories of her she remains alive, not only a shadow on the screen or a glamorous personality.

For us Marilyn was a devoted and loyal friend, a colleague constantly reaching for perfection. We shared her pain and difficulties and some of her joys. She was a member of our family. It is difficult to accept the fact that her zest for life has been ended by this dreadful accident.

Despite the heights and brilliance she attained on the screen, she was planning for the future; she was looking forward to participating in the many exciting things which she planned. In her eyes and in mine her career was just beginning.

The dream of her talent, which she had nurtured as a child, was not a mirage. When she first came to me I was amazed at the startling sensitivity which she possessed and which had remained fresh and undimmed, struggling to express itself despite the life to which she had been subjected.

Others were as physically beautiful as she was, but there was obviously something more in her, something that people saw and recognized in her performances and with which they identified. She had a luminous quality – a combination of wistfulness, radiance, yearning – to set her apart and yet make everyone wish to be a part of it, to share in the childish naïveté which was so shy and yet so vibrant.

This quality was even more evident when she was in the stage. I am truly sorry that the public who loved her did not have the opportunity to see her as we did, in many of the roles that foreshadowed what she would have become. Without a doubt she would have been one of the really great actresses of the stage.

Now it is at an end. I hope her death will stir sympathy and understanding for a sensitive artist and a woman who brought joy and pleasure to the world.

I cannot say goodbye. Marilyn never liked goodbyes, but in the peculiar way she had of turning things around so that they faced reality – I will say au revoir. For the country to which she has gone, we must all someday visit.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Her play Zamboni Godot is opening in New York City in March 2017. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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“Alexander Hamilton” Performed with American Sign Language

in Theatre | October 25th, 2016

Back in 2011, the Los Angeles Times ran a profile on Sarah Tubert, then a 17-year-old student who lost her hearing as a young child. With the help of her family, Sarah persevered, became a star water polo and volleyball player in high school, and earned a full scholarship to Gallaudet University–all with the hope of one day becoming an instructor for deaf and hearing-impaired students.

Five years later, Sarah is making good on her promise. Above, Sarah performs “Alexander Hamilton,” the opening number of the Broadway show, in American Sign Language (ASL). On Twitter, the Hamilton star Lin-Manuel Miranda called it “beautiful.” And it’s hard not to agree.

You can find ASL lessons in our collection, Learn 48 Languages Online for Free: Spanish, Chinese, English & More.

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Hear Sylvia Plath’s Barely-Known Radio Play, Three Women

in Literature, Poetry, Theatre | October 5th, 2016

plath commandments

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Over the years, we’ve let you hear Sylvia Plath reading many of her poems, all written before she took her life at the age of 30. What you likely haven’t heard — until today — is Three Women, one of Plath’s lesser-known pieces of writing. “Originally written as a radio verse drama for three voices,” notes The Guardian, the play “was broadcast in 1962 on the BBC Third Programme and later included in Winter Trees, a poetry collection first published in 1971.” “With its themes of pregnancy, birth, miscarriage and adoption, it perfectly encapsulates the experience of becoming – or not becoming – a mother, including all the ecstasy and terror of childbirth.” Below you can hear a recording with actress Judith Binder as the wife, Ann Bernstein as the secretary, and Rachelle Towers as the girl. The program is made available on Archive.org by Pacifica Radio Archives. Find more Sylvia Plath audio in our collection, 900 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free.

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Marshall McLuhan, W.H. Auden & Buckminster Fuller Debate the Virtues of Modern Technology & Media (1971)

in Art, Radio, Television, Theatre | October 4th, 2016

45 years ago, four eminences took the stage at the University of Toronto: Irish actor Jack MacGowran, best known for his interpretations of Samuel Beckett; English poet and dramatist W.H. Auden; American architect and theorist of humanity’s way of life Buckminster Fuller; and Canadian literary scholar turned media technology oracle Marshall McLuhan. Now only did all four men come from different countries, they came from very different points on the intellectual and cultural map. The CBC recorded them for broadcast on its long-running series Ideas, prefacing it with an announcement that “the ostensible subject of their discussion is theatre and the visual arts.”

Key word: ostensible. “That topic is soon forgotten as two modes of perception clash,” says the announcer, “that of Professor McLuhan, who is one of the most famous interpreters of contemporary 20th-century cultural trends, and that of W.H. Auden, who cheerfully admits to being ‘a 19th-century man’ and sees no reason to change.” And so, though Fuller and MacGowan do occasionally provide their perspective, the panel turns into a rollicking debate between McLuhan and Auden, more or less from the point where the former — making one of his characteristically compelling proclamations — declares that modern media brings us to a world in which “there is no audience. There are only actors.” But the latter objects: “I profoundly disapprove of audience participation.”

By the early 1970s, television had long since found its way into homes all across America, Canada, and Britain, but the thinkers of the time had only just begun to grapple with its consequences. “We’ve just seen Apollo 14, which has some visual effects going with it. It’s a new type of theater, obviously,” says McLuhan, drawing one of many audience laughs. On the subject of television’s conflation of fact and fiction, Auden doesn’t mince words: “I think TV is a very, very wicked medium. That’s all I can say.” McLuhan emphasizes that, as a professional observer of these phenomena, “I have steadfastly reserved moral judgment on all media matters.” Auden: “I don’t.”

Yet the author of The Age of Anxiety and the author of The Gutenberg Galaxy turn out to have more in common than their conflict might suggest. Both in their 60s by the time of this discussion (“Thank God I can remember the world before World War I,” says the poet) and both 1930s converts to Catholicism, they also both harbored deep suspicions of technologies like television. Auden, who insists he would never dream of owing a TV set himself, seems to look down on it as merely lowbrow, but McLuhan has darker suspicions: “You are missing the name of the game, sir. You are actually imagining that those little images you see on TV are TV. They are not. What is TV is that fire stream pouring out of that tube into your gut.”

Even while predicting still-unheard-of advances in televisual technology (at one point attempting to engage MacGowran on “the immediate prospect of four- and five-dimensional TV”), McLuhan also foresees it as the potential spark for such cataclysms as a global race war, going so far as to suggest that “if you want to save a fantastic bloodbath on this planet, which will be very traumatic, very cathartic, and very tragic — in the Greek sense — we turn off TV totally. For good.” Auden, of course, actually approves of that particular idea of McLuhan’s, though he evinces little optimism about its feasibility. “Why won’t it happen?” asks McLuhan. “Because people like the damn things,” he replies.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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Hear Waiting for Godot, the Acclaimed 1956 Production Starring The Wizard of Oz’s Bert Lahr

in Theatre | September 16th, 2016

godot-reading

Image by Fewskulchor, via Wikimedia Commons

You may not know the name Bert Lahr, but you know his most beloved role: the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz. And while you may not have an intimate familiarity with Waiting for Godot, either Samuel Beckett’s script or any of the countless subtle variations in its productions on stage, you certainly know that it has challenged many an actor looking to shore up his avant-garde credentials. Lahr turns out to have stood at the vanguard of this phenomenon in America: seventeen years after his success in Oz but well before word of Godot had spread far beyond Europe, he played Estragon at Miami’s Coconut Grove Playhouse. It billed this piece of minimalist existentialism as “the laugh sensation of two continents” — a bit of absurdity itself somehow actually worthy of Beckett.

“The play was not so much a laugh riot as a revolution in theatrical storytelling; inevitably, it was met with militant incomprehension,” writes Lahr’s sonNew Yorker drama critic John Lahr. “On opening night, half the audience walked out after the first act; the next day, there was a line at the box office—to return tickets.” He remembers his father’s struggle with the next, “the curious contradiction between his colossal insecurity about the meaning of the words that he struggled to learn and his adamant conviction of the emotional truth of the comedy contained in those perplexing words.” He also remembers what came after that disastrous Miami premiere: “the thrill of the re-staged Broadway production later that year, and Dad’s profound satisfaction at his succès d’estime in New York.”

You can hear a recording of this triumphant version of the Lahr-starring Godot, with television star E.G. Marshall as Vladimir and famed Viennese theater director Herbert Berghof at the helm) on Spotify. If you don’t have Spotify’s free software, you can download it here, or you can listen to the play at the Internet Archive. (It’s also streamable above.) “The 1956 production of Godot was Mr. Lahr’s show all the way,” writes Terry Teachout, listening again to the recording, “and to hear it now is to boggle at his seemingly infinite comic resourcefulness. He whines, he whimpers, he chortles, he grunts, giving each line precisely the right flavor. Yet never for a moment does his clowning conceal the play’s underlying pathos, and whenever he opens his mouth, it’s always Beckett, not Bert Lahr, that you hear.”

This recording will be added to our collection, 900 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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