Sunday, February 01, 2009

Waiting for Godot

This has been a weekend of theater here at Chez Evil. Tonks is performing in the One Act Play competition, which started yesterday. The night before, the school showcased the competition play ("Under Milkwood," by Dylan Thomas) as well as 4 one act plays directed by seniors. And man were they good!

Two of the one acts were the two acts of "Waiting for Godot," by Samuel Beckett, directed by students who independently directed the acts without talking to each other. Costumes, stage sets, props--were all independent from the other.

And I haven't been able to stop thinking about it. "Waiting for Godot" is an odd play, and quite a few times during the performance, I wondered if I was "getting" it.

After all, not much happens. Two men, Vladamir and Estragon, are sitting near a road, waiting for Godot. They never say why they are waiting for Godot, or who that is, or what they expect to happen once Godot appears. They talk, they resolve to leave, but they never do. And in the second act, they once again resolve to leave, but don't. In both acts, two other characters pass through: Pozzo and Lucky. As one critic famously said, this is a play in which nothing happens--twice.

So what is this play about? Go ahead and read the Wikipedia entry, as it is quite usuful in laying out several interpretations, as well as setting out many things Beckett said about it.

However, I did not find many of these interpretations persuasive, except for one (which of course I can't find to quote)--the idea that life is a process of waiting, and that something better may come, if not today, then tomorrow.

Now, I am well aware that biography is not literary criticism, but I can't help but be affected by the story of Beckett's life. Born in Ireland, he was living in France during WWII, married to a French born woman. He did not leave when the Germans occupied France, but worked for the underground resistance until he was forced to flee with his wife. They spent two years in hiding in a small village in southern France. "Waiting for Godot" was written soon after the end of the war, in 1948-49, although it was not performed until 1953.

But, I have often wondered about how human beings survive in such circumstances. What must it have been like to hide for two years? Every day spent hiding is a day not living one's life, a day where nothing really happens, a day in which one simply waits for things to get better--somehow. Something is bound to change, eventually, but there is no way to know if the change will be for the better or not. Maybe the Allies will liberate France, drive out the Germans, and Beckett and his wife will be able to resume their lives. Maybe the Germans will show up instead, find Beckett, and execute him. What can he do? Nothing he can do will influence which one of these futures occurs.

So, while in hiding, Beckett is forced to merely pass the time. Perhaps he had only his wife to talk to, like Vladamir and Estragon (which has always reminded me of "estrogen" although I've not seen anyone make that connection). Maybe there were occasional persons who passed through, like Pozzo and Lucky, frightening and diverting, living their own tragedy that only crossed but did not affect the tragedy of the two protagonists.

And what is Godot? God? Perhaps, but also anything that would lead to a change of circumstances, a catalyst that allows the characters to have some control over their own lives. If I were in hiding with one other person, waiting for an army to arrive to either liberate or execute, my life might very well feel like "Waiting for Godot."

Certainly, we in the 21st century should be comfortable with the idea of a play in which nothing happens, and which has no "meaning." "The Seinfeld Show" for example, famously stood for nothing happening, no lessons learned. We simply experienced the lives of the characters, learned their strengths and weaknesses, felt connected to theim. Why is it so hard to treat "Waiting for Godot" the same way? A sort of character study, in which the two characters are not able to leave their situation, but can only wait and hope that things will be better tomorrow.
At any rate, I am happy with this approach for now. Vladamir and Estragon show me what life is like when control is out of your hands. I felt much that way when struggling with the worst of my depression--would the meds start working? Would they work well enough? Would I be able to function as much as I had to? If I didn't feel better today, it was possible I would beel better tomorrow, and that thin thread of hope is what keeps Vladamir and Estragon from hanging themselves to put an end to their situation.

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