Saturday In The Great Stupid Continues: The “Waiting For Godot” Catch-22

I love this dispatch from The Great Stupid! It has everything…

  • It involves a theater production…
  • It’s woke academia at its worst…
  • Copyright and artistic integrity principles are at issue..
  • Diversity, Equity and Inclusion mania is at its core…
  • It’s another “It isn’t what it is” (Yoo’s Rationalization) classic….
  • It didn’t happen here, but I could easily see it happening here, and…
  • It’s really, really, really stupid.

A bit of background: Samuel Beckett, the late Irish novelist and playwright of Theater of the Absurd fame ,best known for his minimalist drama and “Waiting For Godot” in particular, was a cantankerous old coot who didn’t trust directors (with good cause, say I), and directed them in his texts to change neither lines nor character, or risk legal action. Edward Albee was similarly strict on this point, having seen what happens to plays in the public domain (like Shakespeare’s works) when far less talented “artists” decide to make them “relevant.” So if you are going to produce a Beckett play, it’s Beckett’s way or the metaphorical highway.

Oisín Moyne, a fellow countryman of Beckett, was directing “Waiting for Godot” in the Netherlands and auditioned only men for the all-male cast of characters, as he was legally and artistically obligated to do. the college production been in rehearsals since November and was due to be presented at the University of Groningen’s Usva student cultural center in March. (Don’t ask me how or why it would take more than three months to rehearse this play, which primarily involves two guys sitting around talking, but never mind.)

The university stepped in an cancelled the production because auditioning and casting only male actors for the five male character play violated the school’s diversity policies. “If it concerned a play with five white guys that they’d held open auditions for, everything would have been fine. But you can’t ban people right from the start,” Usva theatre programmer Bram Douwes told the Ukrant newspaper.

Usva theatre programmer Bram Douwes is ignorant of law, ethics and culture, as well Backett. Non-male actors were banned “from the start” when “Waiting for Godot” was published in 1953. Since the production was legally and ethically required to cast only men, it had no choice but to audition only men. Is Douwes really unable to grasp that to audition women for parts they could not be cast in without risking having the production shut down by the Beckett estate (and it will do it, too) would be misleading and unethical, wasting their time with a symbolic competition that they could not win?

University press officer Elies Kouwenhoven is similarly a dolt, insisting that reality “isn’t what it is” because he wished it weren’t. This woke boob said, “[Beckett] explicitly stated that this play should be performed by five men. Moving forward, times have changed. And that the idea that only men are suitable for this role is outdated and even discriminatory. We as a university stand for an open inclusive community where it is not appropriate to exclude others, on any basis.”

How about when excluding others is the law, since the playwright or his estate own the play and anyone using it or making money from it is obligated to follow his directions? How’s that for a basis? “Times have changed” is, first, not a fact but an opinion. Second, it is essentially echoing another rationalization, #28. The Revolutionary’s Excuse: “These are not ordinary times.” That bit of intellectual dishonesty argues for suspending standards, laws and ethics because some self-anointed rebel has decided that “It’s time!” The entire misbegotten DEI fad is rooted in this attitude. Third, the argument that any work of art is “outdated” is signature significance for someone who shouldn’t be allowed in a theater without a ticket and translator.

Beckett sued a Dutch theater company in 1988 for  casting women in the play, and won. His estate holds the rights to the work until 2059, and has continued to oppose productions that deviate from Beckett’s vision. In France in 1991, a judge ruled that the play could be performed by a female cast, but only if a letter of objection from the late playwright’s representative was read before each show. Well, France. I could write a letter that would sink any such production the minute it was read, and I doubt any American judge would make such a ruling. The Groningen production’s casting call noted that “unfortunately no leniency can be afforded in this casting”, and linked to reports about the willingness of the estate to take legal action in the past. That was the most any responsible production could do, and it still wasn’t enough for the diversity Nazis.

The play’s producer argued that the school’s harsh decision  overlooked  the non-acting crew. “Although there was a restriction on the actors, which are only five people in this production, the rest of our production is majority female. We also have trans people, we have non-binary individuals, the majority of the production is people from the LGBT community.”

Ugh. You’re groveling on their terms. Stop it. The fact is that the school is punishing the production for doing the only thing it could do. Diversity is irrelevant to art. Quotas in a theatrical production create a conflict of priorities. It doesn’t matter if a production is all male, all female, all trans, all black or all white, if the artist involved can put on the best show possible.

I think I’ve changed my mind. I don’t love this story. I hate this story.


Pointer: Curmie

7 thoughts on “Saturday In The Great Stupid Continues: The “Waiting For Godot” Catch-22

  1. This is flat-out ridiculous. I wonder what they’d do with ‘Missiles of October” (originally a TV play, but it could probably be staged with some minor changes), which contains exactly ONE role for a woman, and a small one at that. Not only that, but all characters of any substance are historical people who really existed. How do you get around that? Arguably that’s worse than violating a copyright, because you’d be lying about something that actually happened.

    In my life I’ve only been to two major Shakespeare productions, both in the UK, one of MacBeth at Stratford-on-Avon and the other of King Lear(featuring Ian McKellen in the title role) in London. The former had all traditional casting, while the latter had a few black performers, notably British-born Anita-Joy Uwajeh as Cordelia, and one gender switch, with Irish actress Sinead Cusack playing a Thatcheresque “Countess of Kent.” The latter production was not really superior to the former, nor the reverse, and if anything was better about Lear, it was the more intimate theater, the race and gender alterations didn’t do anything for it (thought they didn’t do anything appreciably against it). That said, at that level, you are going to be casting some very superior actors, where their talent is almost sure to be more than sufficient, probably even impressive, no matter their color or gender. Start worrying about “representation” at lower levels, and quality IS likely to suffer. In this case, the production more than suffered, it was axed altogether, maybe never to be mounted again at this institution.

    This brings me back to Amazon’s much ballyhooed “Rings of Power” series. It had the GREATEST premiere ever of any streamed series, but it ended 2022 in overall viewing not even in the top 10 as viewing fell off and viewers turned to old mainstays like “Cobra Kai.” The fact is that the whole undertaking was flawed in many ways.

    The problem isn’t so much that the producers departed from the lore as they departed from it enough and in enough ways to make the original authors world almost unrecognizable except for the name. The problem isn’t so much that they made Galadriel a fighting character as that they made her insufferable and very hard to root for. The problem isn’t that they compress the timeline, but that in the process of doing so they made a lot of things make no sense. The problem isn’t that they added some things as that they didn’t adequately explain them.

    The series has also been criticized for going woke, and also introducing color and gender issues where there were none in the lore. I think only part of that may have been attempts by woke writers to “improve” on the original novels by introducing “representation,” as though the first priority were not to tell a good story but to make sure that every gender and color that exists on Earth play a significant part in telling the story, whether good or bad. Given what happened with the fan reviewing (shut down when it supposedly got too racist), I think some of that was probably a cynical exercise in baiting the fan base into responding unfavorably to those changes as you knew some of them would. That then gave the producers and other powers that be an excuse for shutting down comments and an ability to dismiss any and all criticism as racism or sexism. It also meant they didn’t have to try as hard, because they had insulated themselves. If someone points out that some of your writing doesn’t make sense or is not logical even in universe, you might have to actually either try to explain how it is logical after all or confront the fact that maybe you left some holes in the plot. You don’t have to do any of that when you can just cry racism or sexism and refuse to engage.

    That said, the one thing that pushing woke ideology and insulating yourself from criticism can’t do is make viewers tune in. If viewers don’t tune in, your ratings go down, and you don’t get advertising dollars. There’s a reason that overly woke shows with insufferable female leads like “Commander in Chief” sank under their own weight, and the writers and producers better make some adjustments in the full year they have before season 2 is supposed to hit if they don’t want it to befall the same fate.

    Now we’re getting to the point where whole productions don’t get off the ground unless they bow and scrape to political correctness. Sounds pretty Bolshevik to me.

  2. … [Samuel Beckett] was a cantankerous old coot who didn’t trust directors (with good cause, say I), and directed them in his texts to change neither lines nor character, or risk legal action. Edward Albee was similarly strict on this point, having seen what happens to plays in the public domain (like Shakespeare’s works) when far less talented “artists” decide to make them “relevant.” …

    As against that, it has been suggested that some of the alterations to Shakespeare’s works were sufficiently improvements that they have become accepted within the standard canon, e.g. Falstaff “babbling of green fields” on his deathbed (attributed to Colley Cibber, whose other “improvements” were less widely accepted).

    On the broader matter of non-standard casting, I once saw a production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar here in Melbourne that cast an aborigine as the soothsayer and women in many of the active roles, like Mark Anthony and various conspirators. On the one hand, the casting of the soothsayer highlighted for me something I had not really registered before, that the soothsayer was of a group that was generally tuned out and ignored – but on the other hand the casting of women in strong roles, that the director meant in order to show that women can be strong, backfired by making a nonsense of a theme that I had indeed picked up on earlier occasions: Shakespeare had written roles for women as various strong figures’ wives who were also ignored like the soothsayer, just as the vulgar, sweaty nightcapped people like the soothsayer often were in Shakespeare’s day (the latter of which I had not really noticed before, as our day is different – or at least all our yesterdays were). Shakespeare meant that same thing to be read into the wives’ parts, yet the director made a nonsense of that, thus: a world in which women can be strong is not one in which wifely warnings are dismissed.

    • Shakespeare was so frighteningly brilliant (I think he was an E.T., frankly) that any director’s delusion that he or she can improve on the top tier works is the height of hubris. Judicious cutting is sometimes necessary because modern audiences have the attention span of gnats, and even that is regretable. (When I directed King Lear, I had to cut it down to about 3.5 hours, and felt guilty about every word that left.)

      Ironically, “Waiting for Godot” is a play in which non-traditional casting shouldn’t interfere with Beckett’s purposes at all….the characters are symbolic and not remotely realistic: for the life of me, I can’t see why casting a woman as one or all of the characters would change anything substantive. But then I don’t much care for the play…

      I once talked a theater company into casting all of “Red, Hot and Cole”—a Cole Porter biomusical—with women, when the wan audition pool yielded literally no men worth watching, and lots of talented female singers and actresses. It was not a success, although the woman who played Noel Coward was terrific, as I knew she would be, and stole the show. I confess that it was that role that led me to the ultimately over-ambitious concept. In casting, when someone objected to a woman playing Noel, I remember saying, “It’s not as if we’re talking about John Wayne here…”

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