Waiting for Godot | St. Louis Actor’s Studio

godot sqWe live the central conceit that we have the same experiences over and over, to no end that we understand.


“[The show is] an analysis of the ins and outs of daily human interaction-of the mundane social experiences previously not deemed worthy of exploration in front of a mass audience.”

Professor Sam Sommers at Tufts University has written a book based on the thesis noted above: the repetitious nature of life, the role of social interaction in our day-to-day experiences, and the nature of baring the soul before an audience that may or may not understand what’s really going on. It’s a reasonable summary of the tropes in Waiting for Godot, but for one detail: He’s talking about the sitcom Seinfeld. Which does just go to show that talking about “nothing” has a distinguished artistic history. Or wait. Do we mean “nothing,” or “nothingness”? The current St. Louis Actor’s Studio production of Samuel Beckett’s iconic tragicomedy always prompts a different response from audiences depending on any number of factors, but this is the first time I saw it. I thought of Seinfeld, Kramer, Elaine, and George, along with Vladimir (Gary Wayne Barker), Estragon (Terry Meddows), Pozzo (Gary Johnston), and Lucky (Aaron Orion Baker).godot 250

I’m not going to belabor the comparison, but I did want to note it, because I think this is why the best works tagged as part of the artistic movement “theater of the absurd” still resonate. It is because we live the central conceit that we have the same experiences over and over, to no end that we understand. Communication breaks down and every day, life is a performance, sometimes with an audience, and sometimes without. In our society today, it is beginning to look as if “the center will not hold”—but is there a center at all? Was there ever?

The characters in Godot have lines, of course, but what they do more than anything else is “be” in front of us, poised in that moment between birth and death that Vladimir describes as being born “astride the grave.” Often the concept of existentialism is bandied about, but even Beckett didn’t think of himself of a philosopher per se. He believed he was an observer of the human condition, and so he was. But he did write Godot (first produced 1953) and much of his early work in French, the language of Sartre. So, qui sait?

Trying to explain the “plot” is impossible because there isn’t one. There’s no risk of spoilers, as the play neither begins nor ends. It is a series of incidents that happen to “Didi” and “Gogo,” as the two old friends refer to each other, but they occur regularly and without a sense of time remembered at all. At one point, I decided the two were like workers on an assembly line. As each item goes by one’s station, another identical piece follows. And it must happen until the end of the day, and then again, until the end of the line. The two bicker over body odors and boots. Whether to try to hang themselves, and if so, who will go first to make sure the rope will hold. But if you’re not going to die today, then what else is there to do?  Carrots or turnips? Maybe a radish? And wait for tomorrow. But hold on—here come two more characters.

The ironically named Lucky enters first, a leash made from a noose around his neck. He doesn’t speak, and like all the others he is dressed in rags, but he does have a hat. Everyone has a hat. He has a picnic basket holding wine, and a valise. At the other end of the rope is Pozzo, Lucky’s master, who abuses him with epithets (mostly of the porcine variety; later, Vladimir takes to calling Estragon “pig,” also). Pozzo sits on a rock and expounds on nothing much, then he tells them Lucky can dance and he can think. The dancing isn’t much, but when he takes off his hat to “think” for them, the contents of a discordant mind—rather like we all have in quiet moments, especially right before sleep—spill out in a stream of yada, yada, yada. A young boy (Hayden Benbenek) also shows up, promising Godot will come—you guessed it—“tomorrow.”

Lucky shuffles off like a geisha whose feet were once bound—as, in a sense, they were. He is now the enslaved. Throughout human history, we have taken turns with the master-slave relationship, depending upon time and ethnicity, but not gender—there are no women in this world. I suppose in the classic sense of the power relations between a husband and wife, Vladimir’s role is closer to the male stereotype, but while Estragon looks to him for guidance, he also has a mind of his own. From his point of view, they stay together partly out of fear—and Vladimir wants Estragon around to escape loneliness—but they are also bound by love, a Butch and Sundance of Dystopia. Vladimir also suffers from possible kidney stones because when he laughs, it hurts and he has to pee, so even laughter is painful. And the strangers will return, somewhat changed, but also the same.

Patrick Huber is responsible for set and lighting design, and Lisa Beke did the interesting props. The shabby costumes are by Michele Friedman-Siler, and are in the longstanding tradition of dressing the group as bums, though Pozzo is a dandy, even if his clothes have seen better days. Estragon’s boots are almost a character in themselves: getting them off, placing them just so at the edge of the stage, and putting them back on the wrong feet. Director Bobby Miller (who played Vladimir himself 34 years ago at Theatre Project Company) has done fine work here, but I do think some pick-ups could be sharper. As the play settles in, they probably will be, because so much depends on strong acting here. In his welcome speech, William Roth, Producing Director of the company, says this troupe is made up of “the best actors in St. Louis,” and while I’d add to the list, I certainly wouldn’t deny any of them a place near the top of it. You won’t regret spending time with this talented crew.

The set is a tree, and it’s real. Roth explained after the show that it was sawed in half, brought in, and then reassembled with screws. It is bare in the first act, but by the second, a few leaves have come out. Is this a symbol of hope and regeneration, of spring, or is it just an indication of more time passing in which nothing, and everything, happens? Will this ragtag Hope and Crosby ever meet Godot? The name has obvious connotations, particularly when pronounced correctly as is done in this production. However you read it, this is your parents’ Godot, and your children’s, too, because we have this tree and these rocks and this “no man’s land,” which gradually becomes Everyman’s heaven or hell or purgatory—or just another day at the office. | Andrea Braun

Waiting for Godot is at St. Louis Actor’s Studio through May 5. 

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