When Samuel Beckett died in 1989, at age 83, he left behind a wealth of plays, novels, short stories, film and radio scripts. It is a trove plumbed by the many stage artists who revere Beckett’s groundbreaking works, for which he invented a spare, resonant language of the subconscious to explore the meaning (and meaninglessness) of modern existence.
More than a dozen local theater outfits are taking part in a citywide tribute to Beckett’s oeuvre, presented over several months in venues around Seattle. First up, at West of Lenin in Fremont, is next week’s opening of “Life = Play,” a slate of four Beckett short plays and “rarities,” including “Rockaby,” “Act Without Words,” “Come and Go” and “La Derniere Bande” (a French version of “Krapp’s Last Tape,” with supertitles.)
The first-time fest was spearheaded by George Mount, artistic director of Seattle Shakespeare Company, which will present Beckett’s best-known play, “Waiting for Godot,” at ACT Theatre, Sept. 4-21.
Mount says he’s wanted to stage “Godot” for years. “It’s a deep, profound examination of the existential dilemma, of the world and our place in it.”
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In his view, Beckett provides great festival material, because his texts appeal “to so many different kinds of theaters, in terms of the variety, the resonance and repercussions of the work.”
There’s the full-length classic “Godot,” about a pair of tramps searching for an elusive avatar. But Book-It Repertory Theatre, the physical-theater troupe UMO, Sandbox Radio Collective and other participating local groups were attracted to other elements of the Beckett canon, or in several cases, to creating new pieces inspired by Beckett.
Born near Dublin, Beckett studied French language and literature at university. He went on to Paris, where he would spend much of life. He wrote mostly in French, later translating it into English.
Early on he was strongly influenced by the experimental prose of fellow Irish author James Joyce, whom he assisted in Paris during Joyce’s writing of “Finnegan’s Wake.” During World War II, Beckett joined the French Resistance and had several brushes with death. After the war ended, his literary path veered away from Joyce’s and his viewpoint darkened.
“Beckett was rejecting the Joycean principle that knowing more was a way of creatively understanding the world and controlling it,” wrote biographer James Knowlson.
“ In future, his work would focus on poverty, failure, exile and loss — as he put it, on man as a ‘non-knower’ and as a ‘non-can-er.’ ”
But Beckett also was a master of black humor, and glints of joy and compassion appear in much of his writing, if you are alert to them.
Some other upcoming events in the Seattle Beckett Festival (for updates and more information go to seattlebeckettfest.org):
• “Sandbox Radio: Beckett on the Radio.” Thursday, Aug. 29-31 at West of Lenin, and Oct. 13 at ACT Theatre.
• “Beckett Times Three.” Sept. 25-28 at Lee Center for the Arts, Seattle University.
• “Five by Beckett.” Oct. 30-Nov. 9, Sound Theatre Company at ACT Theatre.
• “Endgame” and Blood Ensemble’s “NDGM.” Oct. 31-Nov. 22, Ghost Light Theatricals at Ballard Underground, Seattle.
Misha Berson: firstname.lastname@example.org