Let’s start with a big SPOILER ALERT:
Godot never comes. That’s right, no matter how long good old Vladimir and Estragon wait around for him, the guy just isn’t going to show up.
This basic fact of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot has proven to be endlessly fascinating to critics, audiences, and seemingly anyone who has ever crossed paths with this existential classic. Perhaps we are so conditioned to expect stories with happy endings (or just a definitive ending of any kind) that this curiosity about the conclusion to Godot is somewhat understandable. After all, we are far more accustomed to the plotting of someone like Chekhov, who famously explained that if you’re going to put a pistol onstage in act one, then you’d better be firing it in act two. Beckett, on the other hand, may hint at the existence of that pistol, but he’ll never even let you see it.
Somehow this very lack of action (or forward motion, more specifically) has made Godot into an endless source of fun for myriad writers, directors, and just about anyone with a sense of humor.
Some of these are fairly highbrow, such as Tom Stoppard’s play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (which was revived by the Roundabout in 1987). Stoppard, with humorous affection, manages to combine elements of Godot and Hamlet, as the two titular characters, who play minor roles in the latter play, wait endlessly for the other characters to arrive and explain to them exactly what story they have ended up in.
A lighter take on Godot comes from the 1997 film Waiting for Guffman, written and directed by Christopher Guest. In this semi-improvised comedy, a community theater production suddenly goes over the top in its ambitions after learning that Mr. Guffman, a critic from the New York Times, will be attending their show. (As you can imagine, Mr. Guffman’s attendance record turns out to be no better than Mr. Godot’s.)
Really, it seems that everyone wants to have a go at Godot. The play has been turned into everything from a cartoon of patient guinea pigs, to an interactive online game (if you want to annoy your friends, send them to this site – the gag of course is that you can wait forever, but the game will never load!). I’ve even seen it turned into t-shirts called “spoiler tees” that happily proclaim to the uninitiated “Godot never comes!” (be careful – they’ve also been known to spoil the endings of various Harry Potter books, Planet of the Apes, and Star Wars).
What does this obsession with an event that doesn’t happen mean? Is there something so universal about the waiting, the wondering, the indecision, that it would be impossible not to relate to the feeling? It’s an interesting question. I wonder if it will ever be answered. Maybe we should wait and see.
Posted by Jill Rafson, Literary Manager
2008-2009 Season, Waiting for Godot