In the 1980s, Samuel Beckett’s plays, which include well-known works like “Waiting for Godot,” were banned in communist Czechoslovakia. But the regime’s censorship didn’t stop Mr. Beckett from becoming a hero of the opposition in the eastern European country. In 1982 he dedicated a one-act play, “Catastrophe,” to Vaclav Havel, a playwright and future president of Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic who was then serving a 4.5-year sentence in prison.
The International Association for the Defence of Artists, which was organizing a night of solidarity for Mr. Havel to draw attention to the prosecution of artists under communist regimes, asked Beckett to write the play. It was originally written in French and performed at the Avignon Festival in 1982.
Catastrophe was Beckett’s most overtly political play, according to his biographer James Knowlson. In it, a director and his assistant subject a mute character to their commands, “preparing” him for the stage. The dehumanized character’s only act of resistance is to raise his head at the end of the play, facing his oppressors.
Once Havel was released from prison he wrote a response to Beckett’s “Catastrophe” in the form of a play.