Flynn Center patrons who bought tickets to Waiting for Godot might have thought the wait was almost over: The Christopher McElroen production, set in post-Katrina New Orleans and performed by African American actors, was scheduled for this Saturday, February 5. Instead, the show has been canceled.
The reason? The Samuel Beckett estate suddenly pulled the rights to the play, according to Flynn artistic director Arnie Malina. “We found out a week ago, and it was a startling development, because the same company got the rights a year ago to perform the play,” he says. Indeed, last year’s tour included stops at the Hopkins Center at Dartmouth College and at Middlebury College. “Apparently the increased publicity the piece has gotten over the year drew the attention of one of the [Beckett] family members, and he made the decision they didn’t want the specifics of Godot associated with New Orleans,” Malina explains.
Which is puzzling, because what better expresses unrequited expectations than the citizens of the Crescent City waiting for help after the devastating hurricane and flooding? Remember FEMA? Why wouldn’t the family of the Irish dramatist applaud such a poignant and riveting update of the 1953 play? The production was nominated for a 2010 Elliot Norton Award for its presentation at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, and the Museum of Modern Art has acquired the archives from the site-specific production; they’re on view through September 12, if you happen to be heading to New York City.
McElroen’s original conception is exactly what Flynn-goers will be able to see, as it turns out. “What we’re replacing it with on screen is the film version of the New Orleans one,” says Malina. That would be the one staged on a rooftop in the city’s Lower Ninth Ward, and in a 30-foot pool of water. The piece merges Beckett’s words with the rhythms of hip-hop and speech patterns of African Americans living in New Orleans. McElroen, a New York-based producer and director whom Malina calls “a really innovative force in theater,” will be on hand to discuss the work, political activism and the difficulty of getting the rights to the play — and, one imagines, the ease of losing them.
Though the Flynn is reimbursing ticket holders for Godot, patrons may want to come around on Saturday night for the unique opportunity to witness the New Orleans play — free! — on the theater’s new stage-to-ceiling movie screen, and have an audience with the director. Actor J. Kyle Manzay, who played Estragon (“Gogo”) in Godot, is coming, as well.
In addition to the Saturday night presentation, Manzay and McElroen are conducting a master acting workshop in the afternoon, focusing on the Grotowski technique, named after the Polish mid-century progenitor of experimental theater Jerzy Grotowski.
Malina, though disappointed the touring show won’t be staged at the Flynn, is rolling with the punches. The costs of flying the presenters to Burlington, staffing the theater and presenting the film and workshop are “the cost of doing business,” he notes philosophically. “Things happen sometimes.”
At least a show has been salvaged for the Godot spot, even if it’s not the scheduled one and will be offered at a loss to the Flynn. Earlier last month, a show simply evaporated due to visa problems: Cape Verdean singer Carmen Souza was booked for a January 14 show in the FlynnSpace but was unable to enter the country. “It had nothing to do with us,” Malina explains. “The agent and manager of Souza, who bring in many international artists and have a great deal of experience with this, paid the onerous $1000 expediting fee to rush it. And still [the visa] did not come.”
Malina acknowledges that visas have been difficult over the last decade, but says there are ongoing efforts aimed at legislation “to try to make it easier.”
Let’s hope it won’t be like waiting … for Godot.