This is a void like any other: scorched earth, a sunken tree that looks made of rust, a solitary stone the texture of marble. An environment of jagged edges and understated shades of sepia is framed within a broad stroke of cold fluorescent lights, which make you expect a more contemporary context than the image in the frame would suggest. The color scheme recalls Rembrandt, but the aesthetics are full Magritte: making something tragic-sad into whimsy. Estragon (Aaron Monaghan) sits alone in absolute stillness, as though frozen in time, amidst the audience’s chattering while the house lights are still on.
Waiting for Godot has always been one of my favorite plays. It is a pretty much flawless script. Over the years I’ve seen a fair share of topnotch productions and with each one I see, I hear something new and realize something fresh to unpack. Never have I experienced Waiting for Godot in such a brand new way than I did with director Garry Hynes’ interpretation, though. Druid Theatre Company’s Godot is by far the funniest version I’ve seen and it hits closest to home with Beckett’s text. The production fully embraces the possibilities of comedy, both through text and movement in this otherwise very quiet play (often described as “nothing happened, twice”). The result is deeply satisfying. It galvanizes an unsettling, surreal, and entertaining version of Godot.
Samuel Beckett wrote his plays with meticulous specifications: each word and each stage direction is to be performed as it is written. Due to a common reverence for the writer and his words, Beckett is often put on a pedestal and it’s possible to forget how his specificity is only there to enhance the storytelling. Druid’s version is different in that it realizes the full potential of Waiting for Godot’s classification as a comedy. “Nothing to be done” has never been funnier after witnessing Estragon’s futile attempt to take off his too-tight boots. There are copious moments of silence or stillness, but they are never empty and never wasted. They are always charged and purposeful. The characterizations of Estragon and Vladimir are also brilliant. Monaghan has a resigned sarcasm that becomes a delightful contrast to Marty Rea’s enthusiastic Vladimir. The two become an all-too-real representation of how we cope with depression and various versions of hopelessness. Even if this were the first time you saw the play, you’d be able to differentiate between the two immediately.
The poetry of this production is built in in a macro way. The rhythm of the language is stylized, but accessible; it treats every word with care, yet doesn’t take itself too seriously. It presents the story in all its details and hilarity without making commentaries in the process and, thus, there’s a refreshing lightheartedness. With its accessible tone and ingenious pacing (without sacrificing any of the Beckettian meticulousness), I was able to hear every word of this play as it’s meant to be. Even Lucky’s seemingly nonsensical stream of consciousness packs a grounded punch. It’s the agitated reaction of everyone else around him that makes you realize how unsettling it is. Beckett here allows the oppressed a voice, only for Lucky to then be frightened by how grotesque it is to repress congruous thought for so long. The pacing and tone allow these moments of somberness to hit even harder.
This is also the rare occasion where you get to see Beckett’s play performed by actors from his native Ireland. It takes a second to recalibrate your brain to the performers’ Irish lilts, but ultimately it grounds the language in a kind of naturalism that cannot be achieved with an American or British accent. Pozzo (Rory Nolan), Lucky (Garrett Lombard), and the messenger boy (Jaden Pace/Nathan Reid) do not perform in an Irish accent and this further accentuates the “otherness” of Estragon and Vladimir.
Waiting for Godot is about a lot of things. It’s an allegory of faith, of hope. It boils down to the inevitable hopelessness of life – a completely happy and fulfilled person probably couldn’t understand the tragedy of Estragon and Vladimir. Godot has always made me cry, but Druid’s version made me laugh harder than I ever have before. It later became the most unsettling too, in a satisfying way. I’ve heard it said that the purpose of theatre is to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable. I see Waiting for Godot as the epitome of that.