Time passes slowly for the characters and audiences of Samuel Beckett’s 1953 theater of the absurd classic Waiting for Godot, and yet the play itself has proven timeless, with an ability to be performed in a wide variety of locales and languages.
Yet despite the theme and dialogue’s ability to transcend language and culture, the two-act play — and considered by many critics to be the most significant English-language play of the 20th century — has rarely been seen in Taiwan, either in English or Mandarin, since the first production in 1965.
In the past two decades there have been just a handful of shows: Stan Lai (賴聲川) directed a version at the National Theater in 2001 for his Performance Workshop (表演工作坊), while the Contemporary Legend Theatre (當代傳奇劇場) did a Beijing opera-ish version at the Metropolitan Hall in 2005.
Photo: courtesy of Phoenix Theatre
Deutsches Theater Berlin brought their production to that same hall in 2017 as part of the Taipei Arts Festival, while Coism (明日和合製作所) used the title and the idea of waiting for something to happen for their five-minute shows as part of this year’s Nuit Blanche Taipei last month.
However, the Phoenix Theatre, which was launched in 1999 and was a stalwart of local English-language productions for many years, chose the play to mark its return to the Taipei stage after a hiatus of more than a decade.
The play, which will be performed this weekend at Soochow University, has been directed by Catherine Diamond, a professor of literature and theater at university, as well as an author, flamenco dancer and director of the Phoenix Theatre and the Kinnari Ecological Theatre Project.
Photo: courtesy of Phoenix Theatre
She said that the Phoenix team thought that Waiting for Godot was an appropriate choice for this COVID-19 stricken year.
It is an “apt text to perform while human societies are in stasis, waiting for the pandemic to end and to see what the post-virus future looks like. What do we all do while waiting? We wait because we assume that this will end and is not the new normal…yet,” she wrote in the production notes.
However, it is not just COVID-19 that propelled the team. They also wanted to explore another crisis facing the world crisis, global warming and an overheated Earth.
Beckett set his play in a post-World War II northern Europe wasteland, when the institutional structures of so many countries had been devastated, but Diamond said Phoenix has transposed the action to the hot and humid climes of the global south.
Waiting for Godot is about two men, Estragon (Gogo) and Vladimir (Didi), who are waiting for a friend, Godot. They swap tales as they wait, and sleep, dream or engage with an occasional passer-by.
It can be seen as an allegory about life and death — or boredom — and while sometimes it seems endlessly bleak, there are threads of humor laced throughout.
Most of the five-member cast of Waiting for Godot are veterans of earlier Phoenix productions or those by other small troupes such as Outcast Theatre, the Taipei Alien Dramatic Society or the Butterfly Effect Theatre Company: Maurice Harrington, Paul Jackson, Sara Tarbox, Peter Balfy and Aiden Lin.
Diamond said the Phoenix production has given the play “a Taiwanese twist,” but because Beckett, when asked to describe his characters, “reputedly said: ‘The only thing I’m sure of is that they’re wearing bowlers,’ we have preserved their hats.’”
One twist that the team is divulging ahead of time is that all the actors change roles from Act I to Act II.
The play will be performed in English, with Mandarin subtitles.
There are several buses that run by Soochow University from the Shihlin MRT Station Exit 1: Nos. 557, 255, 304, 30, 18 and 620.
WHAT: Waiting for Godot
WHEN: Saturday at 2:30pm and 7:30pm, Sunday at 3pm
WHERE: Soochow University’s (東吳大學哲生樓哲英廳) H101 Theatre, 70, Linxi Road, Shilin District, Taipei City (台北市士林區臨溪路70號)
ADMISSION: NT$300, available at the door
A friend of mine, Katy Hui-wen Hung (洪惠文), who comes from an old, prominent family and has an abiding and deeply knowledgeable interest in Taiwan history, observed that one of the words for tomato in Hoklo (more commonly known as Taiwanese) is kamadi which appears to be taken from Tagalog, kamatis. She speculated that it moved up along the trade routes from Manila, an old trading town. Small things like imported words signal an old, deep relationship between what is now the Philippines and this place we call Taiwan. Beginning in 1968, archaeological work at Baxian cave in Taitung County’s
After a rebellion decimated the Fongshan County (鳳山縣) capital in 1721, the Kangxi Emperor finally decided to allow the construction of walled cities in Taiwan. The following year, with the completion of an earthen wall surrounding it, Old Fongshan City (鳳山舊城) became Taiwan’s first walled city. Over a century later, the wall was replaced with a stone one, much of which remains standing today. To walk the length of this wall is to walk through centuries of history in just one afternoon, as modern-day amenities intermingle with traces of Taiwan’s past. Any visit here should begin at the Center of Old
Prison books are a semi-major literary genre. Works such as Solzhenitsyn’s The First Circle, flanked by One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, are classics, with Dickens, Genet and Nelson Mandela also featuring. Most of them are at least partly autobiographical, and Tehpen Tsai’s (蔡德本) Taiwan White Terror novel, Elegy of Sweet Potatoes, is no exception. It was originally written in Japanese (Tsai was brought up during Japan’s occupation of Taiwan), then translated into Chinese. An English version, finely crafted by Grace Tsai Hatch, appeared in 1995 and now re-appears from Taiwan’s Camphor Press. The author, who helped with the
The Jiaman mosque in the city of Qira, in the far western Chinese region of Xinjiang, is hidden behind high walls and Communist Party propaganda signs, leaving passersby with no indication that it is home to a religious site. During the Muslim holy month of Ramadan last month, two ethnic Uighur women sat behind a tiny mesh grate, underneath a surveillance camera, inside the compound of what had long been the city’s largest place of worship. Reuters could not establish if the place was currently functioning as a mosque. Within minutes of reporters arriving, four men in plain clothes showed up and took