Waiting For Godot at the Taper

Review by Dale Reynolds

Samuel Beckett’s most famous and enduring play asks more questions than it answers. Is it a religious play, which takes the biblical quotations scattered throughout, plus the similar spellings of “God” and “Godot,” as a hint? An Existentialist examination of the pointlessness of life as we wait for life’s inevitable end? Freudian? Jungian, with its “Id” and “Ego?” Or, perhaps, it’s a political allegory? Or is it just a bit homo-erotic in its images of a marriage between the two? And are Pozzo and Lucky a variation on the relationship between E & V? Whatever…

That such a piece has lasted as a major classic in world literature after 60 years of life means that all of us can supply our own interpretations, since Beckett, would never explain what was there. “I wrote it; you take it,” might be his explanation. So we’re entitled to our own opinions.

This production at the Mark Taper is an extraordinary exploration of its wobbly reality. Director Michael Arabian, respected for his years of acting and directing stability, has found his through-line that probably encompasses all of the above interpretations.

The play opens on a bleak, near-empty stage with only rocks and what appears to be a dead tree in the background, with a sky filled with mostly dark and storm-like clouds on John Iacovelli’s evocative set. Estragon (Alan Mandell) and Vladimir (Barry McGovern), who have been on the road for fifty years or so, have stopped on a small hill, overlooking…nothing. Estragon worries about his too-tight shoes, taking off one of them, shaking out…nothing, and saying, ““Nothing to be done.” So it would appear that ‘nothing’ is a thing that has to be done and this pair is going to have to spend the rest of the play doing it.

Eventually two other characters appear, one, slave Lucky (Hugo Armstrong) leading his “master”, Pozzo (James Cromwell) on a rope. They sit, while Pozzo orders Lucky to do his bidding, including bringing him a picnic basket, wherein he eats and drinks and abuses Lucky, calling him “pig” and “hog.” Lucky never sits, merely bent-over in a 90-degree angle, never complains, but is clearly miserable. And nothing continues to happen.

This motif recurs throughout the play, in which very little “happens,” but in fact, Godot is filled with subtle hints of humanity’s sad condition of waiting and waiting for what they hope will happen – that the mysterious white-bearded Godot will appear, perhaps – and…well, that’s never made clear. Hope, it would seem, is the message.

When a lad arrives (JT Benet), he announces that while Godot will not show up today, he will definitely show up tomorrow. But then, when the next day arrives and he announces the same news, Vladimir accurately predicts that this waiting game is a fool’s game, as Godot will never show up.
Godot has been described as a play which “has achieved a theoretical impossibility—a play in which nothing happens, but yet keeps audiences glued to their seats. What’s more, since the second act is a subtly different reprise of the first, he has written a play in which nothing happens, twice.” And, in a nutshell, that is what the play is. So, what does it mean? Well, let’s borrow a line from the American poet Archibald MacLeish (1892-1982): “A poem should not mean, but be.”

Waiting for Godot runs until April 22nd, 2012 at the Mark Taper Forum, Music Center, 135 N. Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90012. For tickets: 213.628-2772 or log on to:  http://www.centertheatregroup.org/