This morning our local paper ran an article about audiences’ bailing during performances at this year’s Spoleto Festival. This happened at Thursday’s matinee performance of the Druid Theater Company’s killer production of Waiting for Godot. Certainly, I’m not one to mourn fewer philistines in my presence; I only wish the woman behind me. who found every furrowed brow tee-hee worthy, and the woman in front of me, whose incessant coughing brought to mind John Keats’s last days, would have left – or better yet moved to more advantageous vacated seats, because in all fairness, they seemed to be enjoying the show.
I could blame my impatience by claiming I’ve entered the Elisabeth Kübler-Ross anger stage of grieving. Certainly, in a less random, less bleak universe, Judy Birdsong would be sitting between Ned and me, but the truth of the matter is I have always been an irritable audience member too easily distracted by whispers, fake laughs, and lung-heaving coughing.
Now, you might be wondering why someone grieving would go to see a play that Brooks Atkinson described in his 1956 New York Times review as a drama conveying “melancholy truths about the hopeless destiny of the human race.”
Because misery loves company, that’s why. Sing it, Ponzo:
Have you not done tormenting me with your accursed time! It’s abominable! When! When! One day, is that not enough for you, one day he went dumb, one day I went blind, one day we’ll go deaf, one day we were born, one day we shall die, the same day, the same second, is that not enough for you? (Calmer.) They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it’s night once more. (emphasis Beckett)
Even in my woebegone state, I wouldn’t trade places with any of the characters.
Also, the play has more than its share of laughs, especially in this Druid production. Each actor, except for the boy, is a talented physical comedian. The twin protagonists, played by Aaron Monaghan (Estragon) and Marty Rea (Vladimir), are worthy of Laurel and Hardy, on whom Beckett modeled Estragon and Vladimir. Mick Lally in the Irish Times describes the two together on stage as looking “uncannily, like the marriage between a question mark and an exclamation point.” Like, well, Oliver and Hardy.
But most of all, I went because of the language of the play. Beckett’s own translation of his original French is quite beautiful, especially conveyed in the lilting Irish voices of Monaghan, Rea, and also in the voices of Rory Nolan (Pozzo), and Garrett Lombard (Lucky).
Beckett worked for a time as James Joyce’s secretary when Joyce was writing Finnegan’s Wake, and I could hear echoes in of that work in this production.
Here’s a snippet of Joyce reading from Finnegan’s Wake.
To me, tis lovely.
Here’s the trailer for the Druid production.
I suspect a bad production of Waiting for Godot would be wretched. If you don’t have an ear for the music of language, the plot might seem uneventful (and it is repetitive); therefore, it’s absolutely mandatory that you have topnotch actors like Bert Lahr, EG Marshall, Ian McKellen, and Patrick Stewart. The director (Garry Hynes), cast, and set designer (Francis O’Connor) all deserve high praise.
Pro tip: perhaps you should be familiar with a play before forking out $80 for a seat. I promise you, if you found this production boring, you’re not going to find a better one.
Of course, I’m no literary scholar, and you could overload an ocean freighter with various interpretations, but what Godot means to me is that the repetitiveness of life misdirects our eyes to a future in which we expect something different, not realizing that munching on a carrot across the table from your wife reading the paper can seem like sheer paradise in retrospect.
How do you say, “Relish the Moment” in Latin?