There is really only one word to describe Satya Bhabha’s production of the absurdist classic “Waiting for Godot”: masterful.
Written in 1952 by Irish-born playwright Samuel Beckett, the original production of “Waiting for Godot” was performed in French in front of a Parisian audience. Beckett was so pleased by the play’s favorable reception in France that he decided to translate his work into English. The translation, which hit the London stage in 1956, was wildly popular, and what was originally thought of to be a “surprise hit” quickly became one of the most well-known plays of the 20th century.
But it must be noted that the theatrical context in which the play was created became paramount to its success. In 1952, the absurdist movement was at its height; unsuspecting theatergoers encountered unresolved plot lines and enough existentialist thought to make Sartre blush. “Waiting for Godot” is the quintessential absurdist play, questioning the very purpose of humanity’s existence. The piece is, consequently, extremely context-bound: what was riveting in the postwar chaos of 1952 has the unfortunate potential of falling on deaf ears in a more contemporary setting. Any current production of “Waiting” is therefore a risky venture.
But director Bhabha ’06 and his production team, led by producer Henry Harding ’06, passes this test with flying colors. Every element of the show — from the purposefully subdued set to the mime-like exaggeration of the characters’ expressions — comes together in a chaotic whirl of confusion that parallels the characters’ own bewilderment as they struggle to find meaning in their lives. As far as plot line goes, the story is incredibly simple. At the play’s beginning, we are introduced to Vladimir (Peter Cellini ’05) and Estragon (Peter Dettmann ’05), two men who are waiting for someone named Godot to appear.ÊIt soon becomes clear, however, that the elusive Godot is not going to arrive. Vladimir and Estragon, we learn, have been waiting for more than fifty years. As each minute passes, Godot’s arrival becomes more uncertain, and the men are drawn into an endless cycle of emotional turbulence and perplexity: Why are they waiting? What are they doing? Why are they doing it?
As the second act begins, we find that Vladimir and Estragon are in much the same place as they started. Godot has not come, and they are doomed to repeat another day of questioning and bewilderment. The futility of their goal, if it wasn’t clear before, is now painfully obvious. They have spent half a century “blathering about nothing in particular,” and they are certain to continue doing so. Their “blathering” is not insignificant, however; it goes so far as to take a jab at organized religion. It is often said that Godot alludes to the existential theory which views God as either entirely absent or willfully ambivalent. This production emphasizes this allusion by stressing the first syllable of the name. The viewer, captivated by the characters’ plight, cannot help but wonder if he or she is doomed to the same joyless fate.
The entire cast is to be commended for their performance, for their ability to transform essence into existence allows the audience to absorb the many messages lurking behind what would otherwise appear to be a string of rambling dialogue.ÊIt is one thing to Bhabha-memorize lines; it is quite another to communicate them with feeling and energetic enthusiasm.
If the production has one flaw, it is having to bear the burden of running so late in the semester. With midterms behind us and end of term papers ahead of us, the collective student body seems to be suffering from “fried-brain syndrome.” The play’s script is extremely heavy, and not having all of your mental faculties in working order puts you at a serious disadvantage in trying to understand what is happening onstage.
So if you’re looking for the ultimate passive viewing experience this weekend, “Waiting for Godot” should not be your first choice. But if you can muster enough mental stamina to ponder life’s most difficult questions for an hour or two, you should run — not walk — to the Off Broadway Theater. Excellent productions of Beckett’s masterpiece do not come along very often, and this is one of the best.
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