Much Godot about nothing

Springfield StageWorks keeps “Waiting for Godot”

By Lauren Adams

The very first words of Samuel Beckett’s absurdist play “Waiting for Godot” are “Nothing to be done.”

Ironically, the Irish literary critic Vivian Mercier described it as a play which “has achieved a theoretical impossibility—a play in which nothing happens, that yet keeps audiences glued to their seats. What’s more, since the second act is a subtly different reprise of the first, he has written a play in which nothing happens, twice.”

Indeed, “Waiting for Godot” has captivated audiences since its debut in 1953. Director Larry Coressel and a cast of local actors at Springfield StageWorks will be presenting the play beginning March 31 at the State Theatre.

Coressel is one of the founders of Springfield StageWorks.

“I thought that [it] might be possible to have an alternative group that did plays like this,” Coressel says. “We … started experimenting … and doing a couple of shows first with the Springfield Arts Festival and then started our first full season in 2005 at the State Theatre with ‘End Game’ by Samuel Beckett. So this is the first Beckett we’ve done in about a decade.”

“Waiting for Godot” centers on two characters, Vladimir and Estragon (or Didi and Gogo), waiting for a man named Godot. Coressel provides a succinct description of the plot for readers and viewers unfamiliar with the work.

“It’s pretty simple,” he says. “When people say ‘Oh I’ve always wanted to see that, what is it?’ I always say, ‘Two guys are waiting for Godot. And some other characters cross their path along the way …’”

These other characters are a man named Pozzo and his slave, Lucky. Later, a young boy stops by as well with information regarding Godot. As a play, the action is limited and mainly consists of the characters pontificating and performing simple actions to pass the time while they wait for Godot. For viewers, it’s an opportunity to laugh at their silliness, but also to consider much larger questions about what it means to hope, and to live.

“This play does an excellent job of portraying absurdity,” says Katie Eresman, the actress portraying Lucky. “That can teeter between being desolate—where if anything is possible, then how does anything matter?—versus being liberating and light hearted … At times it’s amusing, but it makes some poignant statements about the way man gets trapped in different patterns in life, like ‘hope.’ … It’s very absurd and very funny at times. It’s my kind of humor. But at times, the characters get reflective and it’s extraordinarily deep and sad and beautiful.”

The definition of absurd is something that is wildly unreasonable, illogical, foolish or even inappropriate. Beckett has created a world in which all of these definitions fit these characters and their predicament, yet, as Eresman notes, it is done with a poignancy that is rare to see in any other show. The play is wildly entertaining, yet also deeply philosophical and thought provoking.

Perhaps, because of the philosophical nature of this play, Beckett has had restrictions on the ways in which the play is performed, and the way the characters are casted. As recently as 2006, Samuel Beckett’s estate issued an injunction against a Tuscan company for attempting to use two women in the main roles. From a feminist and racial standpoint, it appears this staunch resistance against having women play the characters detracts from the universality of the play, and ethnic actors have largely been used to make political and social statements in various contexts. Estragon and Vladimir are meant to represent everyone—blank canvasses upon which various identities and characteristics can be painted. This helps the play stay true to Beckett’s original, minimalist form. The focus should be on what the characters are saying and doing rather than what their physical characteristics are.

Coressel speaks more about the ways in which Beckett envisioned performances of the play, and the restrictions that his estate imposed upon those performances.

“There were times during Beckett’s lifetime he had some productions of his plays shut down because they went way too far in changing the setting, or changing the sexes or the races of the characters, which is pretty interesting,” he says. “Sometimes when you do one of his plays, before they grant you the rights to do it, you have to sign an agreement to the Beckett estate saying ‘I will not change anything.’ … It’s open to interpretation; but as Beckett himself said, and I’m paraphrasing, ‘If that’s what I wanted this play to be then I would have written it that way. The play is what it is.’”

In large part that’s what accounts for the wild success and the enigma surrounding this play. And if you’re looking to get into absurdist theatre, this is probably your best introductory piece.

“If you’ve never seen a play by Samuel Beckett this is the one to start with,” says Coressel. “Come out and see it and it’ll be a new experience for you.”

After experiencing this play, every viewer will leave with their own interpretation of what is happening in the play, and the symbolism and meaning behind the show. It is truly a masterpiece, a show well worth seeing and one that will leave you pondering its message for days to come.

Springfield StageWorks presents “Waiting for Godot” Thursday-Saturday, March 31-April 2 and Thursday-Saturday, April 7-9 at the State Theatre, 19 S. Fountain Ave. in Springfield. Showtimes are 8 p.m. each night, and tickets are $10 at the door. For more information, please visit springfieldstageworks.org.

Reach DCP freelance writer Lauren Adams at LaurenAdams@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Reach DCP freelance writer Lauren Adams at LaurenAdams@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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