Now, back to our program of “Waiting for Godot” with HUGO WEAVING. Sorry, I feel I must always capitalize his name now that I’ve seen him perform!
I was first exposed to Waiting for Godot last fall in my Irish/English Postcolonial/War Literature class (it was that long of a title, but I’ve probably butchered it.) with Dr. Maren. That first exposure of reading through it was like carving the front of a sculpture and not the rest. Discussing it in class carved out more of the sculpture on the sides, but it wasn’t quite finished. Watching it live last night with HUGO WEAVING as Vladimir, one of the main characters, completely freed the sculpture of my interpretation of Waiting for Godot!
The question of this play is whether we should cry or laugh as we watch this sorrowful, cyclical plot spiral the main characters deeper into their own despair at the life they have. Vladimir and Estragon live sort of comical lives in their awkward, “dancy” movements and gestures. Estragon’s replies to Vladimir always seem to be sarcastic or merely deprived of hope. For example, when Vladimir (Hugo Weaving- I mean- HUGO WEAVING) would ask Estragon to say, “We are happy!”, Estragon would consent, pause, then say, “What do we do now that we’re happy?”
The audience laughed, but that moment was so telling of the general mood of the play. The setting is a destitute, dystopian landscape, and the main characters are clowning around like Charlie Chaplin! Happiness comes out in the small moments, like laughing at a truly awful day because it’s just uncommonly bad. The audience took every opportunity to laugh at the play because those opportunities seemed that every comical moment was the last of its kind. I believed that they laughed because of the way we live life. We tend to stay ‘on the surface’, and watching a play where the characters ‘tiptoe around the abyss’, as Richard Ruxburgh (Estragon) called it in the interview following the play takes us into the unknown waters of complete and utter despair. We stay away from the big questions of life because they interfere with tea time and our daily newspaper read, but this play pushes your head under water and lets you come up for comical air ever so briefly.
After the play was over, we waited to watch an interview with the cast. Our group moved up to the front row! The visual designer talked about how he worked with the actors to come up with their interpretation of the play. He discussed the fact that the humor is there in the play, and it’s all about tapping into that humor and letting it come out naturally. The actor who played Pozzo talked about the rhythm of the play being one mixed between humor and sorrow, and throwing off that rhythm in one extreme or the other takes away the plays magic. HUGO WEAVING talked about how Richard and he were told 5 years ago to be ‘Didi and Gogo’ in this play because of the way they masterfully pulled off a somber scene in a play in 2010.
In other words, this play is complete because it is both a funny tragedy and a tragic comedy. It’s in a healthy balance of ‘tiptoeing around the abyss’ and Charlie-Chaplin-esque humor, which makes for bittersweet entertainment.