The redoubtable Soulpepper company has mounted a superb production of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot directed by Daniel Brooks. It features outstanding performances by Oliver Dennis as Estragon and Diego Matamoros as Vladimir.
Waiting for Godot has established itself as a classic in the almost seventy years since it was written but the same question has been asked since its first performance in 1953: What does it mean? Beckett gave a precise answer by asking another question: “What does it mean to you.”
That is perhaps the best answer. The play means whatever each viewer extracts from all the apparently pointless talking about nothing, trading of hats, playing of games, struggling with boots and waiting.
There are many issues raised, of course, from the violence meted on Estragon who seems to be beaten regularly by thugs, to the cruel treatment of Lucky (Alex McCooeye) by his owner Pozzo (Rick Roberts). One can make much of the appearance of the Boy (Richie Lawrence) as well.
In the end the best explanation about the play may have been given by the great ballerina Anna Pavlova (who never saw the play) whose comment about the meaning of her dancing may be paraphrased to apply to what Beckett may have meant by his play: If he could say what the play meant, he wouldn’t have written it.
In other words, we are on our own about what the play means. What struck me while watching the Soulpepper production is the story of the two thieves that Vladimir tells Estragon near the beginning of the play. Two thieves who were crucified with “our Saviour” and according to one Evangelist only, one of them was saved. Vladimir and Estragon are tramps and I found an immediate relationship between them and the thieves of the New Testament.
Near the end of the play, Estragon says that he will go barefoot like Christ and that all his life he has compared himself to Christ. The tramps ask for God’s pity. Godot is of course referred to as their saviour if he ever comes and his name does contain the word God.
The most striking comment in this Christian line of references is Vladimir’s question to himself during his brief reverie near the end of the play: “Was I sleeping while the others suffered?”
Matamoros and Dennis play with and against each other brilliantly as the two tramps who are lost in the universe. Roberts struck me as a bit too matter-of-fact in the first act but he showed his brilliant talent in the second act as the blind Pozzo. McCooeye has the thankless role of the abused slave and then has to recite a couple of pages of Beckettian “drivel” that must have tested his ability to memorize and deliver. Bravo.
Brooks has a sure feel for Beckett and the only observation I will make is that there is very little humour in the production. Vladimir and Estragon are aware of their circumstances and I think they are deliberately funny at times but Brooks decided not to play up that aspect in this production.
Waiting for Godot, like all great plays, creates its own universe and has an inexhaustible treasury of meanings and explanations. The only one that counts, however, is your own which of necessity will always be tentative. See the play and find your own mileposts and meaning.
Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett opened on September 14 and will run until October 7, 2017 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 55 Tank House Lane, Toronto, Ontario. www.soulpepper.ca