Theatre review: Waiting for the end at “Waiting for Godot”
Saturday night, the university’s Resident Ensemble Players (REP) put on their final nightly performance of “Waiting for Godot,” during which I waited desperately for the end. As a first time Samuel Beckett playgoer, I was not expecting such extreme existentialism, but I also didn’t do my homework.
“Waiting for Godot” is a play about two men who come back to the same abandoned theater with a tree growing in it every single day, waiting for a man named Godot. They meet travelers who pass through along the way, they explore their purpose on earth and everyday they are told “Godot can’t make it today, but he’s sure to come tomorrow.” Godot never comes, and the men are left hopeless, humorless and sad.
Historically, “Waiting for Godot” is a landmark tragicomic work of absurdist theatre that symbolizes the way people can search for meaning and wait for hope to come, even if there’s no chance at all. Godot represents the hope that the main characters, Vladimir and Estragon, are waiting for. They are left in vain everyday, while they come back to the place in search of their meaning on this earth. It was first performed in Paris in 1953 and has since erupted as one of the great modern classics.
Personally, I had very mixed feelings about this play. I feel like a more existentialist, nihilistic person would have been more comfortable with the experience. The two-and-a-half-hour-long play featured comedic bits, long ramblings and an intense monologue about inevitable oblivion.
Many times, I felt like the endless drone of sadness got to be too much, and Beckett really pushed the idea of dread, which became overwhelming at times. The parts of the story that were loosened up with humor then became highly anticipated as a release from the tension of the rest of the play.
The actors themselves were wonderful. The show was presented by the REP, the university’s professional acting company, and directed by Ben Barnes. The actors kept me entertained and intrigued even during the most dull moments.
Michael Gotch, who played Lucky, a poor slave man who is abused by his owner Pozzo, approached his role wonderfully. There were parts of the play that were written to be funny, but I felt like there were things that should not be considered laughable, and Gotch was excellent at having the audience feel both uncomfortable with the situation, while also making us laugh.
In particular, there was the scene where he dances. The hilarious, crane-like movements had the audience giggling for a very long time, and at every reappearance we laughed harder. The depressing monologue about oblivion kept my attention rapt, even though the topic was incredibly boring.
Without professional actors like these men, the play could have collapsed and left the audience disappointed. It was likely their characterization that kept much of the audience there, although some didn’t feel strongly enough about the topic to suffer any longer. During the 15-minute intermission, I watched a lady storm out of the theater with her purse and coat. “I’m OUT,” she said, tossing her hair over her shoulder and rushing through the door.
Beckett mainly wrote plays that explore philosophical struggles, though, so this is not his only piece that tackles existentialism. It seems like he tried to fit inevitable thoughts of despair into a work of art, but maybe that’s better represented through painting instead of drama, because there’s not much drama in the everyday conversation of two best friends waiting impatiently for a stranger to save them.
If you’re nihilistic and think a little too much about your purpose on this earth in an almost obsessive way, I would recommend this play. If you aren’t so inclined to existential crises, I would recommend finding happier entertainment.