WAIT NO MORE
In 1956 the Coconut Grove Playhouse opened its doors with the American premiere of Waiting for Godot. A Beckett piece, the production baffled and humored South Florida audiences. This year, to commemorate its fortieth anniversary, the Playhouse brought back Godot. Not surprisingly, the 1996 production too bewildered and enlightened theatregoers. The play, as it did forty years ago, raised more questions than provided answers.
Now an established masterpiece of modern theater, Waiting for Godot transformed the marrow of drama. Written by Nobel Prize winner Samuel Beckett, Godot rewrote some of the rules. Components of a traditional play were redefined: a lack of plot the medium was the message.
When the play first opened at the Playhouse, it was touted as "the laugh hit of two continents," a 'sound-bite' of sorts that inevitably attracted those out for a good laugh. Perhaps an inappropriate bite at that. The attendees who were familiar with the play and/or Beckett knew what type of comedy to expect. But many in the audience walked out. Those who walked did not realize that what they were seeing was an allegorical play with symbolic figures and actions. As avid readers of Beckett know, his nonlinear comedy goes beyond the surface. Godot, among Beckett's best, offers a glimpse of the 20th century person who goes on living without knowing why.
When viewing the play, audience members need to leave at home their preconceived notions of how 'theater' and 'drama' should be structured. The play is a modern piece, representing the modern man or woman. It is a comedy with life, death, the hereafter and the human condition at its core: while we are waiting for the major events in our lives to unfold, we wait, not act. And in waiting, we leave the 'unfolding' to 'Godot,' not taking the responsibility to do the 'unfolding' ourselves.
In the play, two tramps wait beside a Dalinian tree (scant of leaves), in what appears to be the middle of nowhere, for Godot to arrive. Uncertain of who Godot is, or why they must wait, they find ways to pass the time. They quarrel and make up, play games anything to avoid boredom. Several times they decide to go elsewhere, but they always stay. As time passes, the tramps wait and wonder, and continue to wait for a Godot who never appears. It is through Godot's absence that Beckett explores the human condition.
Born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1906, Samuel Beckett spent most of his adult life in Paris. He began his literary course as a volunteer secretary for James Joyce, the renowned writer, whose eyesight was beginning to fail. While Joyce became a friend and an inspiration, their differences were evident to Beckett: Joyce tended toward understanding in his narrative voice, Beckett noted, while he "work[ed] with impotence and ignorance."
In his lifetime, Beckett published twenty books of different genres including poetry, short stories and novels, as well as a number of plays the most successful of which included Waiting for Godot, Endgame and Krapps' Last Tape. He is known as the twentieth century artist who led the exploration of nothingness, along with existentialist French novelists, essayists and dramatists Albert Camus (1913 - 1960) and Jean Paul Sartre (1905 - 1980). In spite of his lobbying efforts to the contrary, Beckett was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1969. Obviously he did not care for the Prize Beckett did not show up to collect it!
Beckett led a simple life, with simple means. His philosophical originality, literary insight and skill at portraying broad ideas in succinct vocabulary created a new area of exploration. Above all, Beckett's life and work brought us what he said Joyce taught him: the meaning of artistic integrity. In Waiting for Godot, the audience is witness to Beckett's unfaltering wit.
Samuel Beckett died in 1989.
-- By Rocio Paola Yaffar