Druid’s WAITING FOR GODOT: An Irish Triumph

Garry Hynes’ amazing production of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot made its first stop on Druid’s American tour at Charleston, South Carolina’s 2017 Spoletto Festival,

The occasion is significant for several reasons. First, the production demonstrates conclusively why Beckett’s famous play is rightly considered a masterpiece of dramatic theater. Second, Ms. Hynes production rescues the play from the canon of French literature and places it firmly in the tradition of great Irish stage literature.

Beckett wrote the play in French as En attendant Godot just after the second World War, in which Beckett was an active member of the French resistance. The play premiered in Paris in 1953 and immediately was associated with the so called “théâtre de l’absurde/ Theater of Absurd” of Camus, Sartre, Ionesco, and Genet.

For decades the play has remained in the generally humorless, despairing world of the mid-twentieth century French avant-garde.

When the play was produced in English the following year, Beckett snuck in a subtitle the pure-form French would not appreciate – “tragicomedy”. Nevertheless, the play has seemed to gravitate toward productions emphasizing the tragic of the French original.

A change in the situation was signaled in 2009 with the publication of Emelie Morin’s Samuel Beckett and the Problem of Irishness. In the book the author traces, quite convincingly, the Irishness of the “French” playwright. For example, we learn that, as a student, Beckett visited the Abbey Theatre weekly. Morin demonstrates the influence O’Casey, Yeats, and Synge had on Beckett’s work. The author claims that Beckett’s decision to write in French had to do more with the author’s distaste for the Irish political scene than anything else.

Morin’s book sets the stage, so to speak, for the Irish stage version of Beckett’s masterpiece presented by the Druid Theater. The expected character is not, as the French have had it, “g-DOUGH”, but rather, as an Irishman would have it, – “GOT-it”.

The production eschews a concentration on mood, and chooses to play each individual moment for what it is – sometimes a vaudeville turn, sometimes a wail, sometime a limerick, sometimes a puzzlement, sometimes a heartbreaking bit of poetic insight. The various bits are strung together to present a comprehensive picture of the human condition – sometimes funny, sometimes sad, sometimes confusing, sometimes revelatory, but always so human one can recognize oneself in the goings on more than one would like.

The production is pure Irishness, pure wonder, pure lyricism, pure theatricality, pure humanity.

The Vladimir of Marty Rea and the Estragon of Aaron Monaghan are the embodiment of the typical Irish filial love relationship, as each helps the other along their individual and joint ways. At times suggesting the comic duo routines of Laurel and Hardy and at other times channeling the individual comic genius of Buster Keaton, the pair demonstrates why man was not made to be alone. (Movement director Nick Winston has created some of the most precise and charged detailed action you are likely to see on stage.)

On the other hand, while Gogo and Didi show human relations at their best, the other pair – Pozzo and Lucky- show human relationships at their worst. Exploitative, power-seeking, subservience-seeking, active-aggressive, and passive aggressive, the actors know their role is but a theatrical diversion for Didi and Gogo and play it to the hilt. Rory Nolan’s Pozzo seems like a walking dead-but-sissied up Victor Buono, while Garrett Lombard’s Lucky is a genderless servant savant, full of nothing but the debris of humanity’s accumulated wisdom.

The stage design of Francis O’Connor and lighting by  James F. Ingalls suggest the floating world of a Japanese ukiyo-e print. The rock is a polished Japanese river walking stone and the tree suggests a bare Japanese juniper bonsai.

As this production wends its way across America, serious theatergoers should seek it out as both a great evening in the theater and as a historical milestone in dramatic literature on stage.

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