Waiting for Godot set at Theatre Royal Haymarket 2009

 

Since I have an MFA in an aspect of theatre, I’ve read a lot of plays, and I am no stranger to the work of Samuel Beckett.

I first saw a production of Waiting for Godot as a senior in high school while visiting what would become my undergrad theatre department in 2004. I knew nothing about the play, and, while I claimed to be an artsy and intelligent student, I was pretty perplexed by it all.

Waiting for Godot is an existential absurdist play in which two characters, Vladimir and Estragon, are stuck in an eternal loop of limbo in which they are constantly waiting for a character named “Godot” who never comes.

I was assigned to read it at least once more in both undergrad and grad school, and, while I acknowledged its bleak hopelessness to some extent, it never really hit me in the way it did when I saw it last night. It’s in production now at the current theatre where I work, and dude, what a time in my life to see this play.

This play makes some brilliant observations about partnership. These two friends depend on each other for their survival and sanity, and, although they often loathe each other, they acknowledge that they must stay together. They need to.

Estragon: Don’t touch me! Don’t question me! Don’t speak to me! Stay with me!

Waiting for Godot, Act II

There is much support offered to each other, both emotionally and even physically propping up or picking up the other. They rely on the other for validation.

And, perhaps the thing that struck me the most, is how Estragon is always forgetting what has happened and therefore leaves Vladimir alone in his memories, forcing him to be the only witness to their lives. And making him even lonelier because of it.

When I was separated from my wife, one of the hardest things for me to realize was that I had lost the Witnesser of my life for the last four years. We spent every moment together when we weren’t working. (Yes, it was an unhealthy codependency.) But, because of this, it felt like I had lost much of those four years. When I no longer had a partner around who remembered those times, I felt lost and alone like Vladimir did.

I was also struck by the parallels between the theme of the cyclical meaningless of existence that Beckett keeps hammering upon and how I have experienced depression.

When I was deep in the throes of depression, my life was simply an existence. It was getting through the monotony of one day, only to be faced with the daunting task of the next. Knowing that there was little chance that my “Godot”–happiness–would come. And settling into the familiar routine of nothingness became my lot in life. I experienced dull acknowledgments of how sad this was, but, the longer this continued, the less chance I had of snapping out of it.

Pozzo: (suddenly furious) Have you not done tormenting me with your accursed time! It’s abominable! When! When! One day, is that not enough for you, one day he went dumb, one day I went blind, one day we’ll go deaf, one day we were born, one day we shall die, the same day, the same second, is that not enough for you? (Calmer.) They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it’s night once more.

Waiting for Godot, Act II

Ugh. Pozzo’s final lines are like a sock in the gut. This pessimistic view of our lifetime is enough to send even an optimist spiraling. Our lives are so short and full of misery. There is but a brief glimmer of something good, and then we are dead.

I usually don’t feel this way about life any more, thankfully, but it’s depressing as hell to contemplate. I’m trying to grasp ahold of these glimmers, to cling to them. And, in clinging to them, I hope to draw out my life into something of significance.

Vladimir: What does he do, Mr. Godot?

Boy: He does nothing, Sir.

Waiting for Godot, Act II

Day after day, year after year, Vladimir and Estragon have come to this desolate place to meet Godot, who, every evening, sends a young boy to tell them that he will not be coming tonight, but surely he will come tomorrow evening.

And yet, when asked what Godot does, what keeps him so busy that he cannot keep his appointment, the boy says that he does nothing.

Boy: What am I to tell Mr. Godot, Sir?

Vladimir: Tell him… (he hesitates) tell him you saw me and that… (he hesitates) that you saw me.

Waiting for Godot, Act II

This is a very thin allegory for a God who sits around and does nothing. A God who is aware of the misery of his devotees who willingly chooses to ignore them.

I grew up extremely religious, and, over the course of attending a Christian college and seeing so much overwhelming hatred coming from the majority of the community, I’ve become a bit of a wanderer. My queer identity also compounds these complicated feelings regarding Christianity.

I no longer know exactly where I fit with the whole religion thing. I no longer know exactly what sort of creator I believe in. I think the most accurate label I can give myself nowadays is “agnostic.” I still believe in some sort of being who created the world. I believe that it’s too complex and well orchestrated to have just come from nothing. But I also acknowledge that many people think I’m an idiot for feeling this way. I have met just as many intolerant, poisonous atheists as I have people in organized religions.

And, having experienced what I have experienced, and witnessed what I have witnessed going on in the world lately, I can begin to identify with Beckett’s sentiments. If this “Godot” fella actually exists, why is the world going to utter shit while he just sits from afar and watches, cold and uncaring to our suffering.

We, like Vladimir, just crave recognition. To be seen by this Godot. To be acknowledged.

And yet, life is just a universal slog-fest. Nothing changes, nothing gets better.

And so we wait.

Okay, now that you’re thoroughly depressed, here’s Sesame Street’s spoof rendition of Waiting for Elmo.

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