We’re supposed to be depressed by ‘Waiting for Godot’, a play so full of pessimism about the meaning of life that you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s a wonder people actually buy tickets to see it.
But, watching the first Broadway revival since its premiere New York production in 1956, last night at Studio 54, it was impossible not to feel exhilirated, even inspired. Maybe it was the magnificent anxiety of Nathan Lane, Bill Irwin, John Goodman and especially John Glover in the roles of the men who talk and don’t talk about everything and nothing while incapable of taking responsibility for their own lives. It’s easy to be inspired by those four actors – Lane and Irwin bringing despair and humour to Vladimir and Estragon, standing by the tree, afraid, alone, together; Goodman monstrous as Pozzo the businessman, Glover insane and disturbing as the slave Lucky, all hollow-eyed and duck-like movements. This is a play about the torment that prevails when people do not love.
And because of that, it was an inspirational experience in the theatre last night. There are moments in the play when the characters reveal their depth of need for human community – when Pozzo’s cursed blindness has rendered him unable to stand up; when Estragon has to follow ‘Don’t touch me!’ with ‘Stay with me!’ They want the freedom to be alone; but can’t stand it when they have it. When Vladimir gives hungry Estragon a vegetable, Gogo says ‘I’ll remember this carrot forever’ – a suggestion that, whatever else is happening or not happening, kindness will last too. This production has Didi and Gogo holding hands as the curtain falls – affectation or affirmation? Beckett probably wouldn’t tell us. He’d want us to make up our minds for ourselves, which is of course something that his characters never do. The hope in ‘Waiting for Godot’ comes from the fact that it’s a warning of what life is like when love is absent. And if you’re already feeling depressed, it might not be the best play to see just now; or it might show you that things really aren’t as bad as they seem.
PS: Before I am deluged with comments about how I’ve misunderstood the play let me acknowledge that it’s probably also about whatever else you want it to be. There’s a certain ironic sense in saying that no one has the monopoly on interpreting something that was intended to reflect absurdity.