By Vicki Paris Goodman
There was a time when, upon seeing Waiting for Godot, I would have been awed by the cryptic nature of the play. I guess I was once duly impressed with what I didn’t understand. As if to say, if I don’t “get it,” it must be awesome.
Well, I don’t quite go there anymore. And, unlike some other productions of the play, the Long Beach Playhouse’s Godotmakes no attempt to take the audience in any particular interpretive direction. The blank-slate concept is freeing, on the one hand. But it can also leave one begging for a little guidance.
In any event, Samuel Beckett’s highly venerated play fares well in the hands of director Carl daSilva and his five-member cast. They are, in a word, outstanding. They are funny and tragic, sometimes moving abruptly from one to the other on a dime. That’s appropriate, I think, for what has been portrayed as an allegorical “tragicomedy.”
The play has also been described as “absurdist,” and it is certainly that.
In Waiting for Godot, Vladimir (Anthony B. Cohen) and Estragon (Karl Schott) wait in a nondescript setting characterized only by the presence of a single tree and some crudely defined uneven landscape. Andrew Vonderschmitt’s spare, stylized set design perfectly evokes the surreal nature of the play.
The two men are waiting for a character named Godot, with whom they appear to be barely acquainted. The play spans two days, during which the promised appearance never materializes.
In the meantime, “Di Di” and “Go Go” (Vladimir and Estragon) conjure up various trivial activities with which to pass the time. They talk, eat, sing, dance, complain, argue, get angry, make up, tease each other, and contemplate suicide. They also receive a bizarre visit from what appears to be slave owner Pozzo (Steven Biggs) and his servant Lucky (Kyle Bryan Hall), as well as a local boy (Terren Mueller) who reports on the intentions of Godot. Beckett’s choice of names is particularly puzzling. Remember, though, the play is meant to be absurd.
Furthermore, when we consider the nature of the dependency between Di Di and Go Go, and the entirely different dependency between Pozzo and Lucky, a pattern seems to emerge. And sure enough, I later found an online reference to Beckett having stated that the play was all about symbiosis. Well, now we’re getting somewhere…I think.
I noticed something else, as well. There were several instances in which the dialogue referred to one character’s loss being another’s gain. Or in one segment, a character gave his hat to another. The character who gave up the hat became profoundly weak, almost dead. He who had received the hat gained an almost invincible strength. Apart from his commentary on interpersonal dependency, was Beckett promoting the notion that life is some sort of zero-sum game? Are there political overtones in the play? Are there religious ones, suggesting that the men are waiting, not for a man named Godot, but, for God?
I only indulge in conjecture here to point out some possibilities among many.
Waiting for Godot is not for the theater-goer who merely wishes to be entertained. And it is not for the one who can’t be bothered with the loosely defined. The play requires patience and the bearing of a good bit of “auditory annoyance.” (Pozzo screams at Lucky a lot.) So if you like to figure out the undecipherable, Beckett’s rather self-indulgent stream-of-consciousness play (or work of genius– take your pick) may be for you. You certainly couldn’t ask for a better-executed production.
Waiting for Godot continues in the Long Beach Playhouse Studio Theatre through May 7. General admission tickets are $22; $20 for seniors. Student tickets are $12 with valid student ID. Performances are Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8pm, and Sundays at 2pm. The Long Beach Playhouse is located at 5021 E. Anaheim St. Call (562) 494-1014 for reservations and information. Tickets are also available online at lbplayhouse.org.