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Watching Waiting for Godot

Theater Review
Wed Nov 7th, 2018

Estragon (Aaron Monaghan) begins waiting for Godot at the White Lights Festival now playing at Lincoln Center

When asked what was the meaning of this play, Samuel Beckett, the playwright, replied: “If I knew I would have said so in the play.”

If you want the answer to the question: Why wait for Godot? Go see the play.

It’s Anglo-Irish (first written in French), it’s funny, (even though laughter has been prohibited), and it’s a comment on the cruel human condition. There are references to James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake in Lucky’s one long speech that is the result of his hat being placed on his head and stops when the hat is removed. (Beckett briefly assisted Joyce; Joyce asked him to compile a list of all the rivers in Europe.)

We all waited for Godot, but he failed to appear, even though he sent a child messenger who announced his coming. The play is about the present, which may not have a future.

The black humor of the play stems from Beckett’s experiences during World War II. Beckett worked as a spy for England, summarizing reports of German troop movements, which were inserted anonymously by others into his door mail slot. When warned that German soldiers were occupying his apartment, he fled to a park. When German soldiers came around with dogs at night, he climbed a tree and met a Jewish businessman on the run.

The next morning the two went to a hotel where they registered under false names. The businessman was terrified about being transported to a death camp as he contemplated suicide. That night Beckett argued continuously with him not to commit suicide, but in the early morning the businessman jumped out the window when he saw some German soldiers enter the hotel. In the play the two tramps argue with adroit futility.

There’s a singular absence of women in this all-male play.  Not even a mention. There’s rope, and ties, and boundedness time, night and day, seeing and blindness; there’s a stream of words amid anguished futility. Sublime acting makes every moment telling as the actors “walk” a peculiar tightrope between the real and surreal.

The version put on at the Lynch Theater of John Jay College by the White Lights Festival of Lincoln Center comes from the Druid Theatre Company, which is to say it’s as close to the historical source as you can get. This is the real thing, a direct line from Beckett and Joyce. The set is stunning in its starkness. The tree of life-and-death artful, the lighting august in its shading of night and day. The language possesses an austere music; movement becomes minimalist dance; the set might come from Magritte. It is a night of theater to be enjoyed. It’s strangely magical in its anguished absurdity.