By Drew Ohringer
Tom Lacina’s production of “Waiting for Godot” begins with a brief anecdote concerning the play’s role in creating artistic programs for prison inmates. When a troupe of actors first put on the infamous “play about nothing” for an audience of San Quentin convicts in 1957, a positive reception was the last thing anyone expected—in fact, such as thing was a rarity even from the cultured European elites at the time of the play’s debut. The fact that the play was not merely liked but loved by the motley assortment of thieves and murderers illustrates a very telling point about Beckett’s controversial brainchild.
Through carefully sculpted dialogue and powerful allegorical style, Beckett seeks to channel the universal. He uses five actors and a plot in which nothing happens in such a way that the most basic human nerves of anxiety and frustration are tapped with resounding force. The fact that such an endeavor is being produced in jails and small towns everywhere fifty-some years after its debut is a worthy testament to Beckett’s success. Through “Godot,” Beckett has created the new modern myth, conjuring something from nothing in a way that fascinates sophisticated critics and hardened felons alike.
To say that nothing happens in “Waiting for Godot” is unfair (of course, by the standards of conventional theatre or cinema, there is little in way of soaring musical numbers or explosive car chases to hold close-minded viewers’ attention spans). But those with open ears and patient dispositions will find there is actually a lot going on beneath the skin of this elusive little gem. The main characters Vladimir (played by Rob Clower) and Estragon (Don Bryan) spend the play’s entirety camped out on a patch of ground near a tree, where they engage in trivial conversation and game playing (exciting stuff, right?). But these seemingly unimportant diversions offer quick glances at the play’s core—that is, the alienation and uncertainty one can feel from one’s own daily routine.
The characters don’t know where they’re going, don’t know where they’re from and often can’t even remember what happened the previous day. They sit, squabble over petty things, fritter away the hours with meaningless conversation, all the while awaiting the arrival of the mysterious Godot. Who is Godot, where is he coming from and why? Will his arrival save the characters from their ennui as they sit around with absolutely nothing better to do? These questions go unanswered.
The arrival of the master-slave pair of Pozzo and Lucky brings humor and temporary relief from these gnawing questions, but eventually it’s back to square one for the flustered protagonists. All of this is portrayed by a sharp and able cast who are spot-on as a ragamuffin batch of everymen incapable of articulating the feeling that they are all slowly circling the drain.
Waiting for Godot is not a difficult play to follow. In spite of its reputation as one of the high-browed heavyweights the laymen might associate with pretentiousness and boredom, “Waiting for Godot” is a graceful, accessible tragicomedy with food for thought available to anyone willing to take a bite. If given proper attention, the play will hold audience members of every background captive for two solid hours. After all, who hasn’t experienced a burning dissatisfaction with their daily routine? And who hasn’t felt that unpleasant itch of waiting, waiting, and waiting for something that just might never arrive?
“Waiting for Godot” will be performed at the Grinnell Arts Center this Friday and Saturday (Feb. 25 and 26) at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are on sale at Brown’s Shoe Fit, McNally’s, Grinnell Arts Center and at the door.