(Feingold’s article appeared on Theatermania, 3/25.)
One problem that New York has always had with greatness is that our mainstream theater is a commercial theater, and what's great does not always make money: Sometimes, especially when it comes in a new form, the disruption it causes actively drives the pleasure-seeking, affluent crowds away. We've become habituated to Beckett's Waiting for Godot, today a classic taught in every college's Modern Drama course, and regularly revived with easily assembled all-star casts. It takes effort to recall that 60 years ago, when it premiered on Broadway, Godot was a complete puzzlement to most theatergoers. Even with two star names — Bert Lahr and E.G. Marshall — it had only a short run (60 performances) with a lackluster box-office. The producer's ad campaign included a plea for 100,000 intellectuals to fill the empty seats. They didn't come.
Today, three Broadway and half-a-dozen off-Broadway revivals later, we see Godot differently. Whether we understand it or not, it fits our received idea of what constitutes a great play. When it's well enough done, we feel its effect. Its images, lines, and characters — even some of its stage directions, like They do not move — have entered our language. And yet — one wonders how many of this city's regular theatergoers have experienced Godot. And one notes that Beckett's Endgame, a play nearly as great as Godot, has to this day never had a Broadway production. Possibly the image of aged parents stored in trash cans is still a little too unnerving for uptown ticket buyers.