The first time I read something by Samuel Beckett was for a class on dramatic literature in college. We were assigned to read Waiting for Godot.
I borrowed a copy of the play from my classmate and one time crush, Jeremy. The Jeremy crush never went anywhere, and looking back, he wasn't really my type anyway.
So the night before class, I sat down with Mr. Beckett's Waiting for Godot in my dorm room with cinder block walls. The play had a nice cover---several shades of blue with the two tramps and their tree in silhouette. I opened it up and started to read.
It started off okay. I understand what it's like to wear shoes that don't fit right. But Vladimir and Estragon just kept talking and talking mostly in jokes and puns. What the hell. They were waiting for Godot in this bleak landscape and telling jokes. Huh??? Wouldn't one waiting for Godot in a bleak landscape talk about stuff like food and water or maybe finding a place to sit down?
After a few more pages, I couldn't take it anymore. I wanted to throw the play out the window, but it was Jeremy's copy, and I had a crush on Jeremy, so I couldn't throw his play out the window. At the time, my window was five stories up over looking a courtyard, so throwing it out the window would not have been a disaster. However, I would have had to go downstairs to get it.
The next day in class, the instructor talked about avant garde, existentialism and all that stuff that people talk about when they talk about Beckett. Uh-huh, yeah whatever. The other students seemed to dig Beckett in that ironic slacker filled with cynicism kind of way. I hadn't read the whole play, so I was only depressed. When I learned that Godot never arrives, I figured that was the end of my agony.
Later that semester for another class, I had to read Krapp's Last Tape about the old guy, his banana, and his tapes. I liked that one much better because it was short and succinct. I appreciated the conflict between the recorded reality and real reality on stage. I saw how Beckett could bring us right into a little thing and turn it into the world. I liked the regret in the play, but being young, I knew such regret would never happen to me.
What really got me into Beckett was Endgame. Once again, I had to read it for a class. The teacher of the class loved Beckett and made us love Beckett too. He showed us the humor and the bare essentials of not just Beckett plays but plays in general. What is a play? What is it to play? How is a stage sacred? Details, details, details, and on and on. I got Endgame. The relationship between Hamm and Clov paralleled my work study office jobs a little too closely, and the play has the greatest opening line: ‘me (yawns) to play'.
Still Godot was a thorn in my side until my late twenties when I read it again. I heard a theory that Beckett's involvement with the French Resistance during World War II was a strong influence on Godot---the idea of waiting and waiting for the contact to come. Also, Beckett liked Buster Keaton films, and I liked Buster Keaton films. Maybe just maybe, I could just carry on with it.
I gave Godot another try, and this time, it was a celebration. I wanted to do a production and fill the theatre with balloons because there was so much joy in the play. I could see the audience sitting among hundreds of balloons watching this almost bare stage. Wow.
Even though I had seen productions of Godot on video, I had never seen it live until last Friday when I saw Dublin's Gate Theatre Company do it at UCLA Live. Up on stage in front of me were Vladimir and Estragon looking old, haggard, but speaking faster than race cars. Their tree had three branches and looked like the silhouette of a person holding their arms up with joy. Yes, yes, we're all still here, the tree seemed to be saying.
I can not be analytical and deeply critical of the performance. With Mr. Beckett, my mind doesn't work that way. I put so much work into engaging his work that I feel like I'm in a mental gym and I'm building up muscles. What these muscles are used for? I don't know. I do know that when I walked out of the theatre on Friday, I was happy.