Saturday, October 28, 2006

Still Waiting...

I know that Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot is one of those plays that you all had to go and get the Cliff notes for. You may have feared and avoided it for years because you heard it was so ponderously important. You may have thought that it was one of those difficult works of art that nobody really understands but everybody has to swallow, like bitter medicine.
The current production by the Gate Theater of Dublin at the Skirball Center at NYU, simply shows that Godot is a beautiful play. A beautiful, beautiful play that also happens to be perhaps the single most influential work of drama of the 2oth century.
I think I had seen the play once, in an awful production at some black box theater, that took itself way too seriously and was forced and unfunny. I think I slept through most of it.
Like the greatest plays in the Western canon (Shakespeare, Chekhov), Godot is not easy to pull off. It's hard to find the right tone and balance for both the comedy and the despairing darkness, but luckily for us, the good people of the Gate Theater of Dublin know how to do it. I think it has to do with the fact that they are Irish and they bring a sweet musicality, a warm humor and a wistfulness to the language, that is very moving. My one beef, which I share with Charles Isherwood, in his dead-on review, is that the production needs more darkness.
Because of how lovely it is, this production feels almost quaint. One, because by now we are inured to the shock of the spare and to the wonderful, poetic, concise, magnificent use of language (thanks to Pinter and Mamet, so strongly influenced by Beckett). And two, because the surrounding darkness is not as vividly felt, it is not really threatening. I don't think Godot should ever become quaint, and I believe it is one of those plays that won't, as long as the right resonances are underscored. You can bring out the charm in Godot all you want but I don't think anybody is ever going to be inured to the power of Beckett's godless, futile view of life.
The whole of human life and its gaping absences are in this play. It reminded me not only of Hamlet, which it quotes, but more of that great nihilistic play, King Lear. It made me want to go out and buy the text, for its sheer magnificent poetry and its timeliness.

No comments:

Post a Comment