Sunday, June 21, 2009

Waiting for Godot

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.


Pam said...

I had to read Waiting for Godot for a course I took in college. It was my first (and only) exposure to theater of the absurd and really didn't like it at all. Like you, I didn't get it. I,too, wondered if I'm just not smart or patient enough. I suppose it doesn't matter, if you don't like it, you don't like it. My experience with Godot really turned me off to all theater of the absurd. Though your review of Exit of the King was intriguing.

Kevin Daly said...

I enjoyed a college production of the play a lot more than I did this one.

Though truth be told, I'm jealous of the Brits who have Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart in a current revival of "Godot"

Esther said...

I was really looking forward to this. I'd never seen Nathan Lane or Bill Irwin on stage before. And Irwin has a great clowning background. He's won a McArthur "genius" grant for his work as a performance artist. (He was super nice at the stage door, too). I expected to be blown away by his performance but I wasn't. There were some funny bits but overall, the whole thing was kind of bland and unremarkable. I didn't expect a laugh riot but it was almost like they went too far in the other direction, played it too low-key. Although John Glover was great.

Yeah, I'd like to see Stewart and McKellen, too. It would be so interesting to see how they compare.

Esther said...

Hey Pam,

Well I enjoyed Exit the King much more than Waiting for Godot. Too bad it couldn't extend through the summer because Geoffrey Rush was amazing. And it was also easier for me to grasp because it's so clear what it's about. But Godot is a little more out there. I think this production has gotten generally good reviews but it just didn't speak to me, so to speak!

Katie Ganem said...

I've never read "Waiting for Godot" but I hear a lot of bad reviews. However I really enjoyed "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead" by Tom Stoppard. I feel like that is a much better example of absurdist theater if you want humor as well as intellectual stimulus.

Esther said...

Thanks for the suggestion Katie. I vaguely remember reading Rosencrantz and Guildenstern when I was in high school a long time ago, in the last century.

I don't know, maybe Waiting for Godot is an acquired taste that I haven't acquired yet!

Vance said...

Yah, I had to read it for high school and never really "got it". I mean I "got it" but I thought it was just a long play to make one big point at the end. I thought maybe seeing it live might bring out more but while I actually thought Lane and Irwin were great to make it as entertaining as possible, it still cemented what I thought about the play when I first read it.