Waiting for Godot is a play that has haunted me over the years. I first read it in college some years ago and there were times in my life when I too felt like I was waiting for Godot. When I heard that the Shakespeare Theatre in Chicago was staging it, I felt that I had to see it. I cannot ever recall hearing about its staging so I immediately bought a ticket. And even more ideally, it was being shown in the day during the week. That made this enterprise that much more appealing.
Going to Navy Pier on the weekend is a feat in itself and certainly at this time of the year. So a weekday trip to this busy landmark sounded like a win-win invitation. The gods were on my side because the day proved to be bright, sunny and dry, a rare gem for the city of Chicago. Everything fell into place and parking proved to be a breeze to match the picturesque day.
People in the audience were talking and I heard one gentleman say that Samuel Beckett, the playwright, was born in Ireland and later moved to Paris, France. However, he kept a dual citizenship and Paris was where Waiting for Godot was first staged. To add to the flavor of the day, the actors were from the Druid Theatre Company out of Dublin, Ireland. Their witticisms and Irish brogues helped set the tone for the play.
I re-read Godot the prior week to refresh my memory and possibly see why I never forgot this play. It is basically about two men who are waiting by a tree for this mysterious Mr. Godot. They think that he can save them from their uneventful lives but he never shows up.
I thought of the many times that I thought some other person could bail me out or fix some problem, only to be disappointed. Over and over, I learned that I had to paddle my own canoe. Or, I discovered that my demigod was in worse shape than I was and could never deliver the goods anyway.
I digress. In the play, Estragon (Gogo) and Vladimir are two homeless men in tattered clothes. Their friendship is about all that they have to sustain them. They contemplate suicide often as they see themselves as insignificant people. Even a boy messenger who tells them that Mr. Godot is not coming does not remember meeting them from the day before when he came to deliver the same message.
They pass the time to lighten the day and the actors from the Druid Theatre Company chose to act out a few playful antics to add laughter to the otherwise pathos. At times, they reminded me of a Laurel and Hardy duo as they used various shenanigans to entertain us.
Two other men, Pozzo and Lucky enter the scene by the tree and they bring their own brand of excitement. Lucky is led by a long rope and is being whipped by Pozzo who is arrogant, abusive and self-righteous. He is quite proud and thinks rather highly of himself and says that they are trespassing on his property. He has a few perks like a cigar, meat and a special stool which indicate that he is a wealthy man.
Lucky, on the other hand, shockingly raises his head, after putting on his hat and delivers a long, somewhat nonsensical discourse on mankind. He represents a man who probably was once brilliant but has allowed life to beat him down into servitude. His level of degradation even shocks Estragon and Vladimir. They feel that they can at least stand upright and see that they are indeed quite dignified compared to Lucky.
Yet, the next day, these same two characters stumble into their area again and the high-minded Pozzo is now blind and unable to stand without assistance. He has fallen as low as Lucky and it all happened so quickly which fits the old adage, “Up today, down tomorrow.”
The play ends with Estragon and Vladimir still waiting for Godot. They vow to bring a rope to hang themselves but they doubt that the small tree can even support them. They continue to wait for Godot to save them or plan to find a way to end it all.
Though I looked up others’ analyses of the play, here is what I think Beckett was saying to us all. It speaks volumes about the condition of man. Today, we still see those who feel as if their lives don’t matter and have lost all hope; those who sneer down their noses at others only to need their help in a short time and those who have been beaten down so low that they rarely lift their heads to enjoy the sun. Yet, we know that it can all change rather quickly just as the new leaves appeared overnight on the tree.
As we left the theatre, we mentioned the difference in how the Americans and Irish pronounce Godot- the illusive Godot. This timeless play is a great conversation piece. I am happy to have had the opportunity to see it staged by a group of fine actors. It was simply astounding on all levels!
Lynn M. May 26, 2018