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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

‘Godot’ well worth the wait

Published: November 11, 2011
Section: Arts, Etc.

The show begins with a ragged man trying to remove his boot. He yelps in anguish as he fails to remove it. Another man appears, almost as scruffy looking, and does not assist in removing the boot. Eventually, the first man gets it off, looks inside and notices nothing is there.

This is how “Waiting for Godot” begins. The show, written by Samuel Beckett and staged by the Brandeis Players, is an absurdist play that is simultaneously about nothing and everything at once. The entire play is literally about two men, Vladimir (Christopher Knight ’14) and Estragon (Dan Katz ’12), waiting for a man named Godot, someone neither of them really know or are sure to recognize. Everything else that happens is just a result of the pair trying to pass the time, whether it be wearing each other’s hats, contemplating suicide, or interacting with Pozzo and Lucky, an uncomfortable yet amazing pairing consisting of Grace Fosler ’14 and Stephen Badras ’12, respectively.

Before delving into the plot, the set has to be remarked upon. “Godot” was housed in Ridgewood A Common, a stage that worked amazingly well. Though the set consisted of only a very homey tree and a bench, Brandeis Players made good use of everything immediately available to them from the stairs to the exits. In fact, Vladimir and Estragon spend a good amount of time ascending and descending the stairs as well as hanging on the banister. Lighting was also effective, whether it was a huge spotlight on the stage or stars to create a night setting. The best part about the set, though, was that it was a familiar setting. Although it meant limited seating—there were about 30 to 40 seats, with a handful of people sitting on the floor—it made the show that much more intimate. It made the show seem that much more realistic. We felt Vladimir and Estragon’s dread as time passed, just as we were more and more anxious as time went on with nothing happening.

It is difficult to make a play interesting when it is about nothing but only in this way was it apparent how much Brandeis Players really shone. The acting was always exactly how acting should be in an absurdist play: always ridiculous while also maintaining a somber mood. After all, this play is about waiting for someone who never comes. When Estragon suggests committing suicide, the audience laughs not because they find suicide particularly humorous but because, in the context of their setting, it seems like a reasonable idea as a way to pass the time. When Estragon dozes off, becoming even poorer company to Vladimir, the audience can’t help but feel a little sympathetic for Estragon.

Indeed, Knight and Katz’s performances are what keep the show together and interesting. Their chemistry is amazing to watch as they continue to bicker about nothing and offer each other the company they desperately need. When Estragon is hungry, Vladimir provides a carrot. Their dynamic is simple yet complex. In the playbill, it is explicitly stated that Estragon is meant to convey the body and Vladimir the mind. This fact alone is enough to keep the audience attempting to interpret what’s happening and whether Godot is actually God.

Part way into Act I, Pozzo and Lucky appear as a duo to whom we compare Vladimir and Estragon. Pozzo looks to be some sort of dominatrix with a snooty accent and Lucky as a sort of pet/servant on a leash. Lucky does whatever Pozzo tells him to and, at first, it appears that Pozzo is the frightening one in the relationship, occasionally inhaling what appear to be drugs and insanely susceptible to bouts of hysterical laughter. Lucky, on the other hand, is continuously either falling asleep or drooling while all the while looking rabid.

Soon after Vladimir and Estragon ask Lucky to speak, however, his madness appears full-fledged as he bursts into a lengthy stream of consciousness. Badras has now established himself as a truly terrifying actor, reflecting on his performance as Richard III in Hold Thy Peace’s “Margaret: a Tiger’s Heart,” and his presence in the play was a beautiful contrast to Pozzo and Lucky’s relationship to Vladimir and Estragon’s relationship. Act I ends with a boy (Barbara Rugg ’15) apologizing for Godot’s absence but assuring them that Godot will arrive the next day.

Act II brought the existential/religious/open-ended themes of the play back home as Vladimir notices that the tree appears to have grown leaves overnight. As he reflects on the previous day, it is increasingly apparent that Estragon doesn’t remember the previous day at all and doesn’t remember Pozzo or Lucky. Vladimir breaks down, stating that it seems they are living the same day over and over, further establishing the timelessness of their state and of the play. He threatens to leave Estragon there by the tree but cannot bring himself to actually leave, once again bringing up the ideas of body versus mind. Estragon continuously forgets and Vladimir continuously reminds him, just as the body is forced to live everyday with the only way of knowing time is passing by the mind reminding itself. One cannot live without the other, even in this lifelong wait.

“Waiting for Godot” was a beautifully accomplished play and is a great testament to the quality of work done by the Brandeis Players.