Written in the wake of World War II, with its carnage and cruelty committed by all sides on a scale previously unimaginable, Irish writer Samuel Beckett’s 1949 Waiting for Godot is timeless and of the moment—a bleakly comic portrait of human beings coping with the basic, harsh realities of existence while vainly looking for something “to give us the impression we exist.” Confounding audiences and scholars who have debated for decades what Godot means (or, for that matter, who “Godot” is), this “tragicomedy in two acts” is theatrical poetry that embodies Archibald MacLeish’s dictum (stated in his 1926 “Ars Poetica”): “A poem should not mean / But be.”
Two men, Vladimir and Estragon—Didi and Gogo—pass the time together outdoors, on a patch of land that is bare except for a leafless tree. Dressed in baggy, beat-up suits and ill-fitting bowler hats, they appear to be homeless tramps, or maybe errant music-hall comedians. They are “waiting for Godot . . . or for night to fall,” as Didi explains to the increasingly restless and impatient Gogo. While they wait, they talk—sometimes bantering, sometimes bickering. Occasionally they consider committing suicide by hanging themselves from the tree; but they have no rope, and their belts won’t do. Gogo struggles to pull off his boots, complaining they hurt his feet; Didi fusses with his bowler hat. Then along comes Pozzo—a man of wealth and importance, judging by his imperious attitude, fine attire, educated speech, and the fact that he is led by a silent slave, Lucky, whom he controls with a leashlike rope tied around Lucky’s neck. A couple of times a young boy appears to tell Didi and Gogo that Mr. Godot is not coming today—but surely will tomorrow. So they wait, bantering and bickering. And we watch them wait. Waiting for Godot does not mean anything; it is.
Dennis Začek, longtime artistic director of Chicago’s Victory Gardens Theater, returns to the venue he once led as the producer and director of this solid staging of Beckett’s seminal script. His cast is headed by former Chicago actor Michael Saad (well remembered from Začek’s 1975 Victory Gardens rendition of Pinter’s The Caretaker as well as the Organic Theater’s 1970s productions of Bleacher Bums, The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit, and Bloody Bess), who reprises the role of Gogo that he played under Začek’s direction as a student at Loyola University in 1971. Saad’s broadly smiling, restless, irritable, and impetuous Gogo is a perfect complement to Larry Neumann Jr.’s Didi—scholarly, prim, dourly disapproving, yet prone to sudden bursts of odd pleasure (sometimes at the expense of a less fortunate person). Steve Pickering and Nima Rakhshanifar are Pozzo and Lucky, the ruler and ruled, equally miserable in their symbiotic bondage. v