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|October 25 - 29
Freud Playhouse, UCLA
Waiting for Godot:
(Modern Critical Interpretations)
(1987) Harold Bloom, editor
our review of Beckett's Texts for Nothing
The world has been challenged by Waiting for Godot, Samuel
Becketts famous "mystery wrapped in an enigma," since it first shuffled
onto the stage in its scuffed shoes and shabby bowler hats in 1953. Scores of critics and
analysts have turned out reams of explanations, addenda, second guesses. Godot
scares people with its bleak vision. They seem impelled to try to explain it away.
Like all successful works of art, the meaning of Godot is inseparable from its form. Two guys meet every day near a tree that sometimes has leaves, sometimes not. They wait for someone they do not even know but who seems to hold their future in his hands. He never comes. They try to divert themselves. They contemplate suicide. They try to remember another time, another place. The sun goes down, the moon rises. They continue to wait.
At one point, an imperious stranger happens by, brutally pulling an old man by means of a rope around his neck. The old man is his slave and much abused. Yet he accepts his misery in silence. His name, ironically, is Lucky. In the second act, they return. The master has gone blind but the slave still stumbles along with him. Habit may be what keeps us going after all.
It is tedious, soul-deadening. The audience feels it too. They are disturbed, depressed, a little bored. Just as intended. The watcher also waits for something to happen. Very little does. Still hopeful, we wait some more. Until the curtain comes down. Rather like life.
The famed Gate Theatre of Dublin is touring the U.S. with a wonderfully minimalist production of this famed Irish play. Designed by Louis le Brocquy, Irelands most distinguished artist, it is a stark tree and a rock against an ever-changing sky and it is perfection. No mans land or Everymans land take your pick.
Near perfect too are the performances, by Johnny Murphy as Estragon, he of the ill-fitting boots and smelly feet, and Barry McGovern as Vladimir of the failing prostate and garlic breath. Resisting the temptation to play these two as a vaudeville act a pair of clowns as is often done, Murphy and McGovern make their characters very human and very Irish. Understatement serves the play surprisingly well.
Alan Stanford is the tyrannical Pozzo, played as a boorish British gentleman of a couple of centuries ago, and Stephen Brennan is Lucky, his slave. (For the politically minded, these two might make a neat metaphor for Irelands relations with Great Britain over the last several hundred years). It is Pozzo, seeming to see a little better in his blindness, who sums it all up in the second act. "We give birth astride our grave. It is light for an instant and then it is night once more."
So, why bother? Habit and some strange orders to wait from a mysterious stranger (accent deliberately on the first syllable of Godot here), who may or may not have a white beard and may or may not be able to save you? Beckett presents as cogent a picture of the existential condition as youre ever going to get. There is, as one of the characters observes, no lack of void, so might as well fill it up. Sing, dance, tell stories, eat a radish, abuse your servants, try to hang yourself but, for Gods sake, dont try to figure it out or youll go mad for sure.
Waiting for Godot, too, can be viewed as an empty vessel that the audience can fill with its own fears, dreams, and aspirations. For all of us, the sun goes down and the moon rises, day after day, until our days run out. "In the meantime," says Estragon, "nothing happens." Or does it? You decide.
Berkeley, October 21, 2000- Suzanne Weiss