Gratuitous Violins rating: **1/2 out of ****
When I made plans for the Broadway shows I saw earlier this month, I figured Exit the King would be an absurdist appetizer before the main course - Waiting for Godot. (Pronounced God-oh here, but which I'd always pronounced Guh-doh, on the rare occasion when I needed to pronounce it at all.)
Written in French by Irish playwright Samuel Beckett in the late 1940s, Waiting for Godot is considered the masterpiece of theatre of the absurd. And according to at least one survey, conducted in 1998 by Britain's National Theater, it's the most significant English-language play of the 20th century.
Whoa, pretty heady stuff, no?
So I was looking forward to the Roundabout Theatre production, featuring Bill Irwin and Nathan Lane as the two forlorn tramps, Vladimir and Estragon, who are waiting for the mysterious Godot. (I just realized that Estragon is kind of an anagram for strange or stage. Hmmm.)
But knowing that theatre of the absurd often has very little plot and kind of nonsensical dialog, I was worried it might not make much sense. Sadly, my instincts were mostly correct. Maybe I'm not smart enough or patient enough but I have to admit that I just didn't get it.
Irwin and Lane are kind of funny being sad and hapless. I thought John Glover was terrific as the nearly mute slave, Lucky. And it was fun to see John Goodman, as Pozzo, his master.
In the end, though, neither Irwin nor Lane one made a very lasting impression on me. I didn't laugh very much and I didn't take away any deep meaning. It's not that I expected a physical comedy with lots of slapstick. But I didn't care about these two characters as much as I should have. Honestly, I was a little bored.
Like many absurdist plays, Waiting for Godot was written in the aftermath of the death and destruction of World War II and the advent of the Cold War. Santo Loquasto's set design - a stage filled with boulders and one scraggly tree, certainly conjures up some post-apocalyptic world.
I guess you could say that Vladimir and Estragon represent two sides of human nature - Vladimir is more philosophical, Estragon more concerned with the necessities of everyday life. And the fact that one day in their lives seems pretty much like the next could be taken as some kind of metaphor about the futility of human existence, like Camus' Myth of Sisyphus.
Or maybe it's about God, even though Beckett always denied that. I don't know. You can read a ton of theories here.
My favorite theory is that Beckett is teasing the audience, that there really is no profound, deeper meaning in Waiting for Godot, even though we continually look for one. Personally, I think the answer to what this play is about can be found in the very first word.
I was so interested in philosophy and theatre of the absurd when was younger but I never had a chance to see any of the plays. Now, I've seen two and I think that may be enough for quite some time. I'm still game for a challenging play but I like a plot, too.
So, after all these years, was Godot worth the wait? I'm kind of torn. Even though this production didn't engage me all that much, the play is considered a landmark. Now I've seen it - and I can move on. I'm done waiting for Godot.