A Humorous Human Experiment 

Director’s notes by Jennifer Tarver

 

I am entranced by Samuel Beckett’s writing. He has an incredible theatrical sense: he knows the power of live performance and everything it entails in terms of choreography, rhythm of movement, lighting and all the other resources of the medium. It’s almost as if he writes the theatre before he writes the play, telling the story through those three-dimensional elements rather than beginning with text that then has to be translated onto the stage. Some of his plays don’t even have any spoken words. I love that kind of inherently theatrical drama. And then on top of that, the words he does write are heartstoppingly beautiful poetry.


To me, the old joke that Waiting for Godot is a play in which “nothing happens, twice” is inherently untrue. On the contrary, what doesn’t happen in this play? Everything happens. Beckett takes humanity and the universe and puts them under a microscope. When you look at a blade of grass through a microscope, it becomes unrecognizable: a whole other world of fine detail is revealed. Likewise, to some people it might seem on the surface that nothing happens in Godot, but if you look at it through the right lens, as I hope we do in this production, it reveals not just a blade of grass but a whole tropical rainforest of events and action and story.


I don’t think Beckett set out to mystify people; to me, Godot is written in a very straightforward way. As I see it, he’s conducting an experiment, with himself as the subject. In the play, Vladimir is an intellectual: he analyzes and tries to understand. He seeks purpose and meaning in the world around him, which is how I imagine Beckett to be. I can imagine Beckett saying, “Wouldn’t it be hilarious if I made a little puppet of myself, with my own character tendencies taken to extremes, and dropped him into various scenarios – caught, for instance, between a dictator and a slave? What’s he going to do? How does he respond? What decisions does he make? What meaning does he try to construct?” He’s experimenting with certain basic human situations, painting various character types to see how each might react in accordance to a given extremity. How do we respond to atrocities, to abuse, to tyrants? How do we respond to people who are severely handicapped? And I think it’s in those responses that the story of Godot lies.


Beckett said he wrote the play to relax: I think he wanted to make himself laugh – and to laugh at himself – in a post-war period when people needed to laugh. On a larger scale, I think his experiment is about what happens to us as human beings when we try relentlessly to find meaning. Where does that get us? Is it, in the end, the wisest road to follow?


 

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