I had a friend in drama school who used to say that "Waiting for Godot" was like the "Smells Like Teen Spirit" of modern theatre. He would argue that Samuel Beckett��s most well-known play -- while, of course, to be sure, how can you deny -- is a work of groundbreaking brilliance, it nevertheless in this generation attracts a certain sort of firebrand young student of the arts: the kind that wear black, carry around dog-eared copies of Martin Esslin's Theatre of the Absurd
, quote Antonin Artaud like he��s some unexposed genius they��ve personally discovered, and are always trying to tell you just exactly what��s in ��real absinthe��.
It's position in the western cultural conscious as both one of the purest embodiments of dark, iconoclastic genius and at the same time an enormous clich�� is pretty fitting giving the effacing nature matter of the play itself, but it makes putting it on about as hard as pulling off a cover of "Rape Me". You're just asking for trouble.
Here's the plot once again and for all time: transpiring over two days, "Waiting for Godot" follows the experiences of two men waiting for the arrival of someone named Godot, although they don't quite know who he is or exactly what they're all to do when they meet. They pass the time arguing, eating, playing, laughing, crying, dancing, singing, sleeping, walking, pissing, contemplating suicide, speaking, not speaking -- anything to fill the hours and hours before the immanent arrival of Godot, whose presence will signify ... something.
Something from nothing.
Often called a "tragicomedy", "Waiting for Godot" is a densely worded, nattering blank canvas, on which all manner of interpretations can be -- and have been -- foisted. The simplest phrase can be read as completely inconsequential or in turn it can be read to cascade upwards into acute and penetrating commentary on the bedrock principles of existence, the meaning of life, the nature of humanity, the "human condition", God -- basically all those philosophical things they used to think about back in the 30's or whatever.
The EastWest production of "Waiting for Godot" (dir. Jonathan Geenen) features David Turley and Thomas Caron in the central roles of Estragon and Vladimir, representing the book ends of humanity but at the same time pretty much the same person. 'Tis a lovely bit of casting to pair the former actor with the later, as Turley's biog has him erstwhile cutting a rug with people like Eric Bogosian and Karen Finley, whereas Caron boasts extensive experience in Shakespearian theatre. It's a good match because "Waiting for Godot" is pretty much "Hamlet" on just the worst kind of mushrooms. You know the mushrooms I'm talking about.
The play is, essentially (in my humble, humble, unlearned opinion), one long awful joke -- a joke with the punch line extended into horrifically awful territory -- a joke told "too soon", a joke done in bad taste, a sad joke, a joke told in ignorance to the company you're in, a joke that makes you grimace. The characters are the comedians and the audience plays the straight man, and as such, the play sinks or swims on the rhythm, timing, and delivery of the players. Even a bad joke has to be told right.
In the opening of "Waiting for Godot" last night, after finding their footing in the first act, the two leads delivered a powerful second act, trading off base and volcanic idiocy for the esoteric variety, creating a powerfully arresting portrait of blameless ignorance, frivolous listlessness, and faultless dejection. It was just about right because the second act is really when it's time to start abusing the audience.
I've seen several of the EastWest Theatre shows and this one is definitely one of my favourite thus far, perhaps because I have a beat up copy of "The Theatre of the Absurd", the Artaud Reader, and a wardrobe black as a Cossack's pantaloon to boot. It is a remarkably well-done production of "Waiting for Godot" -- exalted despair, arcane gloom, and jarring crisis of faith to be had by all -- and so really go see it. Buy tickets and give them your money and other nice things so they��ll keep bringing the hopelessness.
Expect a crooked smile on your face the whole time, scattered and guilty guffaws from the audience, and a lot of fresh air stimulating your jaded appetite.
EastWest Theatre pres. "Waiting for Godot" at the Shanghai Theatre Academy (630 Huanshan Lu, near Wulumuqi Lu). Show times are Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 8pm (doors 7:30pm). Price: 200rmb. Sunday performance at 5pm, price: 150rmb. Ticket bookings and inquires to 13564102955 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.