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Westerly Sun Column

The Library is Home to a Wealth of Tragicomedies

Have you had a chance to check out this year’s Shakespeare in the Park, presented by the Colonial Theatre of Westerly? If not, there is still time! This year, they are performing Samuel Beckett’s iconic tragicomedy “Waiting for Godot”, and you can catch it in Wilcox Park on Wednesday through Sunday from 7:30-9:30 p.m., until August 13th!

If you’re not familiar with the play, “Waiting for Godot” is quite simple: two men are waiting for a third man who (spoiler alert) never arrives, and they engage in a variety of discussions as they wait. Many, including the artistic director Marion Markham, have noted that the play is rather fitting today, in the Covid era. Tme is an illusion, little seems to actually happen, and we’re all just waiting for the elusive and possibly fictitious “new normal” to arrive.  The subtitle of the play refers to it as a “tragicomedy” – a genre that contains elements of both comedy and tragedy – which also sounds a bit like the last 2 years of life. If you’ve been using humor as a coping mechanism to get through, there are a number of other “tragicomedies” available at the library that may appeal to you.

For a classic, try “The Cherry Orchard” by Anton Chekhov, in which aristocratic Madame Ranevsky returns to her family estate just before it is auctioned off to pay her debts. The “tragic” elements are obvious, but Chekhov swore it was a comedy and a farce, so I guess we should believe him! Another is “The Merchant of Venice” by William Shakespeare, in which a merchant takes out a loan with pretty sinister conditions if he defaults on it (which, of course, he does). If you prefer to become better acclimated with “Waiting for Godot”, we have several copies of it available, as well as the CliffNotes version for those of you who prefer to go that route!

There are plenty of modern tragicomedies, as well. If you have a great deal of time and patience, you could try David Foster Wallace's 1996 magnum opus, “Infinite Jest”, an unconventional 1000+ page encyclopedic novel that was inspired (in part) by Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”. Let me know how it goes, I never managed to finish it myself. Personally I gravitate towards tragicomedies in the form of movies/TV. If you haven’t already watched it, I highly recommend “Fleabag”, a TV series created and written by (and starring!) Phoebe Waller-Bridge. I also love the 2004 cult classic “Sideways”, a film about two forty-something men who embark on a wine-tasting road trip before one of the men gets married. A few other, modern tragicomedies are “Russian Doll” starring Natasha Lyonne, and “O Brother, Where Art Thou?“ starring George Clooney. Whether you’re laughing or crying, at least you’ll be passing the time.


By Cassie Skobrak, Adult Services Librarian