21.6.09

Waiting for Godot

If left to my own devises, I would most likely remain chained to this computer and never leave my room. Within a few days, zombification would set in, and the imperfect social skills I have painstakingly put together would all come crumbling down. Luckily, I have friends that buy me tickets to the theatre, and so this eventuality is held at bay, at least for the time being. Anyway, today I went to see Waiting For Godot.

The production had Captain Jean-Luc Picard playing Vladimir and Gandalf the Grey playing Estragon. A stellar, magical cast, undoubtedly (hoho). This was why I was exited about seeing the play, despite hearing about how opaque and difficult it was. Two demented old men standing next to a tree, talking gibberish whilst surreal characters walk on and off. Hmm. Regular readers of the Hot-Doll pages will know I have little patience with equivocation. I expected Waiting For Godot to frustrate me with a lack of coherent patterns and metaphors -- something that would suggest everything but say nothing.

I really shouldn't have worried. Imo, the play was surprisingly brazen about its themes. God-ot. These two friends are waiting for God. They have been promised salvation when they meet him. But if they abandon the appointed meeting place they will be 'punished'. God, of course, never comes. Vladimir, the intellectual of the pair, desperately wants God to recognise his existence, for there to be some personal link with the divine. But he is never satisfied. Estragon, the down-to-earth (quite literally, a lot of the time) common man, is less perturbed by existential crisis. He is frustrated by their thankless task, but waits alongside his friend. The two are left with fallible memories, a very dim perception of time's passing, and each other. All they can do is try and entertain themselves as best they can, while the days go by. As long as they keep waking up when the sun rises, they are locked in this endless cycle of hope and disappointment. They can meet Godot only in death, but the pain of parting from each other deters them from suicide.

The play is most touching when it portrays these two characters alone, bickering, singing, telling jokes. You get a very real sense of the deep love these two characters have for each other, which Picard and Gandalf conveyed beautifully. They are equals, tethered together by mutual needs. In light of Godot's continual absence, their relationship becomes the most hopeful aspect of the play.

This is heavily contrasted with the completely unequal relationship between the aristocrat Pozzo and his slave Lucky. The latter is absolutely subservient, obeying to the letter his master's crazy demands. Marxism has never been so potently described. Pozzo holds a whip and a rope that is tied to Lucky's neck. The latter is a pack animal with no independent will. Only when told to think can he begin to. His thoughts are warped and deranged, but in their ferocity they almost set him free, until Pozzo slaps him back down. In the second half, Pozzo is struck blind for his inability to perceive the suffering of others, and Lucky is struck dumb. He now drives the machine, but has no say on where it goes. The two can't function and go down together. They present a violent hysterical dystopia, effectively counter-balanced by Vladimir and Estragon's gentle utopian relationship.

The audience laughed softly at the pranks pulled by the two pairs, but this was humour of the darkest and most hollow sort. I smiled and hated myself for it, overwhelmed by the heart-breaking pathos of each joke. This wasn't funny. Tragicomic the play may be, but the tragedy surrounds the comedy and engulfs it. I desperately wanted a reprieve -- some blissful joke that had no shadowy core. If I have a problem with the play, it is that there weren't enough such rays of light in this grinding existential purgatory. The only source of comfort remained the sometimes dysfunctional, but constantly reaffirmed love between Vladimir and Estragon.

Few works of art talk about so much in three hours. Waiting for Godot is the opposite of empty. It is so full that it can encompass everyone within it. It's infinite. It explores feelings unbound by place and time. Torturous and obtuse it so ain't. The greatest play of the 20th century..? I'd buy that.

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