Traces of Beckett : gestures of emptiness and impotence in the theater of Koltès, Kane, de la Parra and Durang

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Philips, Jennifer Beth, 1976-

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This dissertation examines Samuel Beckett's powerful legacy and influence on contemporary theater (on plays written and produced since 1980), and it defines this influence in both text and performance as gestures of emptiness and impotence. The plays selected for analysis here have been categorized at times as belonging to a tradition and legacy of the so-called "Theater of the Absurd," but, finding this category to be at once too restrictive and too loose, their relationship to the absurd is defined by their explicit use of and inspiration taken from Beckett's theater. Beckett's intentional and innovative use of emptiness and impotence, both spatially and textually, is decisively paradoxical: while emphasizing blank spaces and powerlessness, his plays find meaning in emptiness and unexpected control in what he called the "exploitation of impotence." In each of the plays analyzed in this dissertation, (Dans la solitude des champs de coton, Koltès; La secreta obscenidad de cada día, de la Parra; Blasted, Kane; and Laughing Wild, Durang), the explicit use of both emptiness and powerlessness are examined, and at the same time, I define what it is about each of these gestures that renders them particularly Beckettian as they relate to these works. In all of the plays examined here, gestures of emptiness and impotence become their opposites: significance and power. Four of Samuel Beckett's plays (Fragment de théâtre I, En attendant Godot, Fin de partie, and Happy Days) are compared and contrasted with the work of Koltès, de la Parra, Kane and Durang respectively. The parallels revealed, made both intentionally and unintentionally by their playwrights, demonstrate not only the certainty of Beckett's continued influence, but also reflect his persistent, widespread impact. What is shown, with broader implications for future study, is that Beckett's use of emptiness and impotence as theatrical, literary and artistic gestures have led to a new kind of hopefulness, and a new kind of artistic inspiration that is unique to our time.