The protagonists of Beckett’s Play are a man and two women, representing husband, wife, and mistress, who are, in Robert Brustein’s words (New Republic, 1 February 1964): “Immobilized in three gigantic urns, above which only their tilted heads are visible . . . [they] stare blankly into the middle distance, unable to budge, unconscious of each other’s presence . . . imprisoned in one of the lower circles of hell, damned to ruminate eternally on their petty lives and vices.”
Play was written in English, translated into French, and then into German. But it was the German text, prepared by Elmar and Erika Tophoven with Beckett’s assistance, that was first produced, as Spiel, in Ulm-Donau in June 1963, directed by Deryk Mendel, the actor-dancer who played in Beckett’s mimes Act Without Words I and II on the same program. The American production, directed by Alan Schneider, opened at the Cherry Lane Theatre on 4 January 1964, and the London company, under the direction of George Devine, three months later at The Old Vic on 7 April.
The French production, titled Comédie and directed by Jean-Marie Serreau, opened ten days late.