Waiting for Godot

Waiting for Godot, quite simply is the play you must see. I think of it as kind of an allegorical mirror that shows one different things at different stages in life, so you need to see the St. Louis Actor’s Studio performance at the Gaslight in the next two weeks, before May 5, even if you’ve seen it before. I hear performances are selling out, so take the plunge and pay the Ticketmaster tax and grab your tickets. Then do what we do, dinner beforehand at the adjoining West End Grill and Pub, so you can nurse a bottle of wine through the evening. This is the coziest place in St. Louis for dinner, like family. Last night a man was celebrating his retirement and everyone congratulated him.

Back to Waiting for Godot. This performance is superb. It lets the meaning of the play seep right into your bones and brain, where it begins to twist and writhe. What exactly are you doing with your life? Are you parading on the stage of power and insanity like Pozzo or Lucky? Are you letting life pass you by, ignoring today while waiting for a tomorrow you’ll never have, like Vladimir or Estragon?  Do you know the power of friendship? Do you spend your time inside or outside? Where exactly in your own life does this powerful play take you?

I think I must have first seen it in high school in Geneva, Switzerland, probably in French. Both that time and the next time I saw it, also in my youth, I took away very different things from the play. I wanted intervention, above all else. I wanted Lucky to break away, or die. Maybe he is the character most like all of us as we parade along the knife edge of obligations? I wanted Vladimir and Estragon to get on with things. I could care less about Godot, certainly not viewing him as worth waiting for. I thought the kid seemed impossibly phony.

Now, on the eve of another decade of life, I see the play quite differently. Maybe Vladimir and Estragon have it right, that all you can do is live the moment, not necessarily enjoying it, celebrating friendship, observing life walk by (Pozzo and Lucky) and waiting for the unknown? Maybe our memories are false friends, so we don’t know exactly what we have seen or experienced. Maybe all experiences outside this powerful friendship are unpleasant beatings and sleeping in ditches, but can be overcome with love.

Something I wondered that I had not thought about before was what would this play be like if all the actors were women instead of men? Are we all so equal now, that it would be essentially the same? Has it been performed that way?  I tried to switch it in my head and thought that it would be very different. I think if all the characters were women, they would seem much more crazy and disfunctional than it does with the men. In our slightly polygynous society, women not embedded in the fabric of family are more rare than men, and perhaps more compromised.  I would love to see this play and discover my reaction to it as played entirely by women.

Names are obviously a huge deal in this play. Vladimir and Estragon refer to each other as Didi and Gogo. Do you still have friends that remember your childhood name? If it is different from your adult name, do you not thrill to hear the old name from your oldest friends? I knew a Cindy who became Alcinda. I knew a Jenny who became Ceal. My own father jettisoned Wolfgang, and its nickname Wolfie, only pronounced in German, for Paul.

Obviously Lucky does not seem to be so lucky, but what if he is? What if he is living the prescribed life, behaving as told? Well, I  could go on and on, but I am not a literary critic, so I recommend you either find one of them to read, or, best of all, simply go see the play and see what thoughts it makes you think.

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About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
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2 Responses to Waiting for Godot

  1. Scott Miller says:

    Great review. I can’t wait to see this wonderful play again.

    Come visit New Line Theatre sometime — http://www.newlinetheatre.com

  2. Judy Silver says:

    Loved this commentary! Definitely someone do the play with all women. That would be worth flying half way across the country to see…especially directed by Bobby Miller!

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