By Edward Sobel, >pharm Associate Artistic Director
A critic once described Samuel Beckett’s two-act masterpiece Waiting for Godot as “Nothing happens. Twice.”
Understandable, but not correct. A careful reading, and a good production, reveal a lot to actually be happening. And while repetition is important to both the play’s form and its meaning, Act One is not a simple mirror of Act Two.
A similar challenge faces us with Endgame. If one enters the play expecting conventional events and the kind of story one is used to in a play (A ghost appears and urges me to exact revenge on my father’s murder. I hire actors to make a play to catch the conscience of his murderer. I kill everyone in sight, and get killed myself.), then one may be in for a confusing 80 minutes.
Obvious dramatic events don’t seem to have a place in Beckett’s world. Godot never arrives. (Sorry, should that have had a spoiler alert?) and in Endgame, the huge event (the apocalypse) has already happened. Beckett seems interested in what we do in the non-overtly dramatic moments instead. Are we waiting? Are we ending? But we are doing something. What is the drama of our quotidian existence? What is its meaning?
It seems the task of our ensemble, as I prepare to begin rehearsals this week, will be to make sure we know what seemingly small thing is happening, and communicate it with clarity, humor and visceral energy. There is no question the central characters, Hamm and Clov, have a different relationship at the beginning of the play than at the end. They also have individual views of the world that change during the course of the play. I’ve spent the last weeks tracking through the script to uncover the moments those changes happen, and what causes them.
It is also clear that part of the genius of the play is treating language as a kind of music. (Beckett himself, when directing the play, did not always talk to actors in terms of a character’s motivations — sometimes he would resort to musical terminology – “that line needs to be more staccato”.) We don’t listen to music expecting a linear story – music operates on us emotionally, and is ordered through themes, counterpoint, and repeated motifs (there’s that repetition, again.) We will need to honor that music, and play it for all we are worth.
So, what is the story? Something is taking its course. And part of the fun, both in the doing and the watching of the play is figuring out what.