There is art that makes sense; there is art that requires a little more effort. Line by line, "Waiting for Godot" makes sense. Step back to get a comprehensive look, however, and the play comes apart, never to be perfectly fit together again. Samuel Beckett’s show urges the viewer to see the beauty in dissonance.
E.M.U. Theatre’s "Godot" uses the Haskell outdoor powwow space, an appropriate venue for a philosophical show: when the actors gesture to the firmament, there it is before you. E.M.U.’s selection of "Godot" and of the outdoor venue were a little risky. But risky is good and, for the most part, the performance keeps the script immediate and palpable without excising its humor and quirk.
To say much about the plot is to risk treading on the viewer’s interpretation. Two men stand near a tree, waiting. They meet two other men. The same events transpire the next day. They pass the time until Godot arrives. But no one knows who Godot (pronounced God-oh) is or why they’re waiting for him.
There are oblique religious references, one to off-stage characters named Cain and Abel. A man with a slave and a whip stumbles onstage. There is a lonely, haggard tree, perhaps the Tree of Knowledge or the Tree of Life. “Decidedly, this tree will not have been the slightest use to us,” says one character. His lines ring with aphoristic introspection. Catch the play’s metaphors if you can; they whiz by in Gatling-fire.
Dean Bevan and Todd Schwartz play Vladimir and Estragon, respectively. Schwartz also directs the play. The pair of characters could be two versions of an everyman figure struggling to find purpose. Bevan and Schwartz kindle a lovable chemistry between their characters, setting the pace of the play and giving it much of its humor. Vladimir exudes a more contemplative, patient outlook, while Estragon, ever forgetful, asks, “What are we doing?”
Perhaps they are waiting for God. Perhaps they are simply waiting for something to do, something to give meaning to their lives. “It is not every day that we are needed!” says Vladimir upon finally finding a menial task. The line underscores the triviality of a life spent waiting.
But not all waiting is boring, and Pozzo helps pass the time. Played by Nick A. Stock, Pozzo could represent the devil, or perhaps another, more pernicious everyman. He tempts the men, tries to bribe them. He drives a slave, demands obedience. Though Stock translates Pozzo’s pomposity, the actor does not quite believably convey Pozzo’s emotions — his easy confidence, his tempestuous spells of doubt. Pozzo comes across as a one-dimensional laughter with too-quick timing.
This shows in the directing, as well: the play is most at home when Estragon and Vladimir are on stage alone. The set is minimal and the songs of birds in the outdoor space add to the ambiance. There are references to the falling of night in the play; as it progresses, night falls on the audience. If you see the play, get a closer seat by bringing a blanket to sit on.
As it moves along, the show perhaps becomes more about memory than anything else. Estragon doesn’t remember much through the entire play, but by the end, even Vladimir’s memory starts to fade. Beckett asks us to consider what we remember and how we create meaning from our memories. “To every man his little cross. Till he dies. Then he is forgotten,” Vladimir says. Does death end us or do we live on in memory? Whether we remember or not, we always seem to be looking forward. Whether we remember or not, “One thing alone is clear: we are waiting for Godot to come.”
Shows run at 6 p.m. May 25, and 26 at the Haskell University outdoor powwow space. They are free of charge. Bringing a picnic is encouraged.