At its least, Samuel Beckett’s post World War II tragicomedy is about the banter that arises between two friends who exist in a state of perpetual, time-bending boredom. At its most, it is a haunting window into the darker questions and limits of Christianity. Beckett has, in large part, left it up to the viewer to decide.
Waiting for Godot is a play about two friends, Vladimir and Estragon, or “Didi” and “Gogo,” as they wait by the side of the road for their appointment with the mysterious Godot, who always seems just out of reach of the increasingly frustrated friends. As day turns to night, Vladimir and Estragon repeatedly attempt to leave their roadside haven for the pursuit of greener pastures but are always stopped short by reminding themselves that they must continue to wait for the promised Godot.
Enter Pozzo and Lucky, a slave driver and his mostly mute, suffering servant, and the stage is set for an interesting outcome.
Eastern’s production, directed by ‘97 alumna Deanna Downes, brings several accomplished alumni back to Eastern’s theater department. Among these are Jon Froehlich (Gogo) from ’99, Michael Brix (Pazzo) from ’98 and Downes herself. Froehlich and Downes have both gone on to graduate studies at Columbia University.
In the midst of the play, Beckett alludes to numerous biblical figures through his interpretation of characters such as Lucky, whose passive obedience has been connected with the suffering of Christ; Godot, whose omniscient power has been taken to represent God; and Vladimir and Estragon, who are often seen as representatives of the increasingly hard-to-please human race. Beckett is clearly speaking to the questions of our time, questions that are even more relevant to those who call themselves Christians.
But while it is tempting for Christians to elevate the religious elements of the play, Beckett’s real agenda is perhaps more obscure. Isaac Woofter (Vladimir) said that in choosing how to act out his character, he and Froehlich made the decision “not to play up the religious themes” of the play.
Woofter said that in the process of developing his character, he focused less on deciphering original thematic intent and more on “playing the likeness, playing the fun” of his Vaudeville-like relationship with Estragon. Such banter provides entertainment, and, though the overarching religious themes are still present, leaves these themes for the audience to interpret.
Downes, however, sees the religious content of the play as being more prevalent, noting how she wrote a paper on its religious content for a graduate class at Colombia. Downes said that such differences in dramatic interpretation provide a nice, subtle contrast between some of the actors on stage.
Perhaps the true brilliance of Beckett’s play comes from its multiple interpretations, as both sides seem to acknowledge some degree of purposeful obscurity in deciphering its true meaning.
“Beckett leaves it open, and he leaves room to put ourselves into it,” Downes said.
For Christians, this may mean the topics of a post-play conversation are a little bit different than those of their secular counterparts. But as it stands, just about everybody can glean some sort of meaning from a story about two friends waiting for Godot.