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Waiting For Godot - August 2022 Book Club Reading

Falselogic

Techno-Threadcromancer
(they/them)
Waiting for Godot is a play by Samuel Beckett in which two characters, Vladimir (Didi) and Estragon (Gogo), engage in a variety of discussions and encounters while awaiting the titular Godot, who never arrives. Waiting for Godot is Beckett's translation of his own original French-language play, En attendant Godot, and is subtitled (in English only) "a tragicomedy in two acts". The original French text was composed between 9 October 1948 and 29 January 1949. The premiere, directed by Roger Blin, was on 5 January 1953 at the Théâtre de Babylone, Paris. The English-language version premiered in London in 1955.

This is a play about two bedraggled people who chat beneath a tree while the wait to meet Godot. Neither is sure that they know who Godot is or if they've ever met the person before.

The play is incredibly stripped down, with the author himself refusing to provide context to anyone, including actors who were playing the characters. Beckett never did explain what he meant or was trying to say. He himself said that the only thing he was certain of about this play was that “Vladimir and Estragon are wearing bowler hats” And so the play as been interpreted to mean just about everything. I am looking forward to seeing what you all think about the play.

As this is a play, I think it should be watched. The 2001 movie, which seems to be a fairly accurate representation of the work, is available on Youtube. There is also a 1956 Broadway reading of the play that you can follow along to here.
 

Paul le Fou

24/7 lofi hip hop man to study/relax to
(He)
I'm torn. Part of me thinks it's theater and should be watched. But also, part of me wants to read it on my own because if meanings were left so vague, I might want to form my own opinion of the text before seeing someone else's interpretation. Hm...
 
Part of me thinks it's theater and should be watched.

I wouldn't worry about this too much! It's definitely written as a literary text. You're definitely not doing it wrong by reading it, and some elements can only be experienced through the text.

(I'm going to stay out of this otherwise....)
 

lincolnic

can stop, will stop
(he/him)
Plus, with Beckett, reading the work and seeing it performed are very different experiences. I recommend both! I'll try and grab this from the library and join in next week.
 

Violentvixen

(She/Her)
This was one of the last plays my father performed in (as Vladimir) before he passed away. Here are a couple quotes from this interview, which I highly recommend reading as it has a lot of good summaries of what makes this a tough play and prior productions.

"In the productions of Godot that I have seen — and I certainly haven't seen them all — it's not a play," said Dukes. "It doesn't have the energy of theatre. It has the energy of a soapbox piece or a literary piece. And I think that finally kills most audiences; it drives them away. When they talk to friends over dinner and coffee afterwards, they don't have a warm response to it."
"One of the reasons that he can't eat is that his mind is always racing. I know that's what it should be. I've clued into that in my thinking, but not necessarily in my acting yet. It's why he always walks agitatedly. Estragon is always sitting down and Vladimir is always in motion. I think it's because he has a mind that won't stop and he's trying to come up with answers. It's an average mind that wants the big answers and can't get them. And even if he does, he's still going to die. I think Vladimir is just churning."
"Waiting for Godot is great, but you can't approach it like it is great," Dukes continued. "I think that finally it can still be anti-theatre without the flat, boring readings. If we can keep the audience from coughing for an hour at a time, and then at the end they realize nothing happened, that's anti-theatre. Nothing happened, but it was absolutely filled, just like it was for Vladimir and Estragon."

Matrix Theatre was possibly his favourite company to work with, as they'd double-cast plays, meaning two separate companies performed the same play. Generally this freed up actors to be available for other projects but in a play like Godot which is so incredibly open to interpretation it also resulted in two very different versions of the same play in the same theatre.

Never be afraid to read a play but I encourage watching it too. This one varies so much between productions that you'll see something new.
 

Falselogic

Techno-Threadcromancer
(they/them)
I feel like I should clarify my statement. I wasn't saying you shouldn't read the text. This is after a Book Club, where we read things! Just that as this is a play I think a reading of it will be edified by a viewing. I should have been more clear in my original post.
 

Violentvixen

(She/Her)
I feel like I should clarify my statement. I wasn't saying you shouldn't read the text. This is after a Book Club, where we read things! Just that as this is a play I think a reading of it will be edified by a viewing. I should have been more clear in my original post.
I will say my note on this wasn't directed at anyone specifically, I just saw it noted a couple times and it's a feeling people often have about plays so wanted to comment too.
 

John

(he/him)
I've only read the first quarter of the play previously, and watched about that same amount of the linked movie version, so I'm excited to try it again. I think it's interesting that my read on the characters when reading them differs from how the actors in the movie portray them. I'm going to finish reading the play in full prior to watching any adaptation, see just how much an actor's choices can change interpretations.
 

John

(he/him)
Well, I definitely picked a “book” that I should have no problem finishing in a month. I had to fly for work this morning, and ended up finishing Act 1 on my commute. My only knowledge with this play previous to my last aborted read was that Robin Williams and Steve Martin performed it once, that it only has a few roles, and The Critic line “Yo, Godot, I’m Waitin’ Here” starring Sly and Frank Stallone.

I won’t go into full impressions until after I finish, but the minimalism and stage direction here is fascinating. There’s a ton of info that is conspicuous in its absence, and what he chooses to include feels as important as what’s left out.

There’s also some formatting choices that could be ebook remnants, or a conscious choice to have certain things indented/italicized outside of the direction. I wonder how much of the metatextual weirdness is intentional commentary, how much is a language translation byproduct, or something else.

After reading this, I’m greatly looking forward to seeing some adaptations. I highly recommend tracking down the text first, this is good stuff.
 

lincolnic

can stop, will stop
(he/him)
I should be picking up my copy at the library tomorrow, looking forward to getting in on the discussion for this one.
 

lincolnic

can stop, will stop
(he/him)
There’s also some formatting choices that could be ebook remnants, or a conscious choice to have certain things indented/italicized outside of the direction.
This must be something that happened when it got ebook-ized, my paper version has very plain rectangular formatting and the stage directions are always in parentheses.

I read this over the last two nights, haven't watched any versions yet. (I'm pretty sure I saw the Bill Irwin/Nathan Lane production on PBS back when that was a thing, but I remember nothing from it aside from the hat-swapping bit.) I'm...not really sure where to begin discussing a play that's notoriously hard to talk about! Especially a play that can be performed so differently from cast to cast. I guess I'll post a couple of general thoughts about the reading. I'll use spoiler text so as not to influence anyone else before they're ready.

-One thing I've learned from seeing Beckett performed live vs. Beckett on the page is just how funny the material really is. It's so easy to read the text very dry, but in the hands of a talented actor some of the stuff becomes a riot. I had the extreme privilege of getting to see John Hurt do Krapp's Last Tape (my favorite Beckett play) and it was really eye-opening in that regard. I'm curious about how seeing this one in motion will change my interpretation of some things.
-How did other people feel about Vladimir and Estragon's relationship? In the reading, even though it's very clear that they've been companions for a long time, I got the sense that they're almost like parent (Vladimir) and child (Estragon). Vladimir with his overworked brain is very protective of Estragon, gives him snacks, keeps him on track, wants to know who hurts him when they're apart, explains things to him (like why they can't hang themselves), etc. I couldn't help but imagine them as an exhausted parent with a five-year-old, but to my knowledge I don't think they ever really get portrayed that way on stage.
-Speaking of Vladimir: seems like he finally catches wise that Godot will never come by the end of the play, but has he had that realization before? Of the handful of people in this play, he's the only one with a functioning memory, so I feel like he'd have an inkling if he had. Even so, it's not like it matters. They're still going to stay by that tree forever.


I feel like I'm not exactly breaking new ground or making anything beyond surface level observations here, but it's what I've got at the moment. The play's lodged itself in my brain though, so I may do some more reading (and certainly some watching) before the month ends.
 

John

(he/him)
I’m almost recovered from a mild covid bout this weekend, and will try Act 2 again later. I’ll also snag some screenshots of the formatting I saw earlier, which I was looking for meaning beyond the actual intent, unfortunately.
 

Violentvixen

(She/Her)
Finished Act 1. It's amazing how much and how little is written here. Just a fascinating play. Excited to read Act 2, probably this weekend.

-One thing I've learned from seeing Beckett performed live vs. Beckett on the page is just how funny the material really is. It's so easy to read the text very dry, but in the hands of a talented actor some of the stuff becomes a riot.

I remember being surprised and laughing at the line about zipping up the fly when I saw the play and was surprised and laughed again reading it, I'd completely forgotten. What a goofy yet profound play.

I won’t go into full impressions until after I finish, but the minimalism and stage direction here is fascinating. There’s a ton of info that is conspicuous in its absence, and what he chooses to include feels as important as what’s left out.
The direction [Vladimir uses his intelligence] is amazing. Had no idea that was in there.

There’s also some formatting choices that could be ebook remnants, or a conscious choice to have certain things indented/italicized outside of the direction. I wonder how much of the metatextual weirdness is intentional commentary, how much is a language translation byproduct, or something else.
Are you referring to the stage direction for the other characters during Lucky's monologue? That direction is in the margins, usually interpreted to mean that he does not stop due to what's going on. In my head I always thought of it as a Looney Tunes style moment where all the characters are in a cloud of dust fighting, but one character's head and voice are still clearly animated above the chaos.
 

John

(he/him)
I need to go back and take some screenshots of the formatting when I get back to this (soon!). Some areas had the normal single indenting, but others had double, plus italics, which for someone looking for metatextual stuff was bait.
 

Violentvixen

(She/Her)
Finished it. I found the second Act harder to follow than the first, but don't remember thinking that when I saw the play performed. I feel like this act gives even more creative freedom to the actors too. Hoping to watch a version this weekend and will have more thoughts after that.
 

John

(he/him)
I also finished it. I thought it was interestingly abstract. I don't know if I liked it, I find myself asking "why was this made" when thinking about it. A surface read is just that everyone is in a Purgatory state, waiting to cross over to another state of existence, with the Boy acting as the arbiter to whoever or whatever Godot is/represents. Everyone has various states of memory loss, possibly from the nature of their existence, how long they've individually been in this world. There's more people referenced in the dialog than actors in the play, from the group of 10 people that may or may not have beaten Estragon in the night/morning/act break, to the billions of people that may also be in the same state that they are.

I'm curious about the different places mentioned in the text. The duo mention Macon and Cackon counties, but Pozzo also mentions a place called the Board. Were there any other locations mentioned, besides the Tree?

Oh, and I figured out the formatting issues I was seeing. Normally the dialog is left aligned, directly after the speaker's name, and the stage direction is indented. Occasionally though, if there's a break in someone's dialog, it starts out left aligned, but then has a line break and is indented as well. It just broke my conception that only stage direction is indented, when actually it can be dialog too, as long as there's an indicator of a paragraph or dialog break.
 

Violentvixen

(She/Her)
Watched the movie linked above and liked it very much, it's less physical than other versions I've seen but captures the characters very well in my opinion and has a lot of really well done line deliveries. Unfortunately the audio cuts out for the first chunk of Lucky's speech, but if you've read the play you know what's happening.

I started watching a version that was apparently directed by Beckett but the quality is poor and I did NOT like the readings of the opening lines and gave up after a couple minutes.

My library has a service called Kanopy which had a 1961 version (here's a bad quality Youtube link, the Kanopy one is much better if you can access it) that tries much harder to be comedic (has Zero Mostel as Estragon) and I skimmed through just to see how different it was from the movie. One thing this version highlights that I don't feel is highlighted in others is that at the end of Act 2 Vladimir tells the boy to say "you saw me" rather than "you saw us". Overall I didn't like this older production, I found it awkward and trying too hard, the 2001 movie is quite good.

I really, really, wish this version wasn't only streaming for a limited time last year because that preview is fascinating and all of those actors trying to do this play over Zoom is blowing my mind. Damn. I really want to see Wallace Shawn as Lucky and am mad I can't.

I'm curious about the different places mentioned in the text. The duo mention Macon and Cackon counties, but Pozzo also mentions a place called the Board. Were there any other locations mentioned, besides the Tree?
Pozzo mentions "the manor" and Estragon also mentions sleeping in a ditch but that's all I can think of.
 

Falselogic

Techno-Threadcromancer
(they/them)
Unfortunately, I was unable to participate last month. Turns out getting ready for babies and then taking care of babies takes up a lot more time than I ever expected.
 
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