Waiting for Godot has been described as “a play in which nothing happens, twice,” referring to the second act being a reiteration of the uneventful first act. Even a seasoned fan of the enigmatic Jerry Seinfeld Show might pause to wonder why she’s sitting in the Cocoon Theatre in Rhinebeck, witnessing the reticent inaction of a small group of characters who seem not to know what’s going to happen next in the play. And when nothing much does happen, audience members are provoked into way more required thinking than they might be accustomed to – which is exactly what has happened since the enigmatic Samuel Beckett brought forth his play over six decades ago.
Two questions are provoked: Why do people flock to Godot, study it, interpret it, try to make sense of it year after year? And why would a small, underfunded theatre company choose to produce it in an economic period that might instead beg for something light and fluffy? As plotless as everyday life, and as darkly humorous as the most Absurdist comedy written since, Godot confounds as much as it enlightens.
“Why would someone go see this? Because they’ve never seen it. They go because they’ve heard of the play and know a little bit about it: two guys waiting. Samuel Beckett gives off that air of intelligentsia; it’s taught in every high school. It’s a play that everyone should know about,” says Marguerite San Millan, co-founder of Cocoon Actors’ Theatre. “It’s kind of like modern dance: People go because they think they should; they might be missing something inexplicable. It’s a cult thing. People love it. It’s the smart thing to do.”
Then San Millan turns to the second question: “All of the cast and co-directors thought they knew what the play was about. Once they started working on it, they realized it wasn’t anything like they remembered. For instance, there are five characters in the show, and everyone thinks there are only two. It’s so open, timeless, nameless; you can see it from a religious point of view, approach it politically, psychologically – Freud, Jung – or philosophically. That’s what is so beautiful… It hits each person on their own soil.”
In its time-twisting abstraction, Godot offers actors, readers and audience members a non-linear opportunity to sit with themselves without being told what to think, without being distracted by mere entertainment and pointless diversions. “There’s a very meditative thing about this play,” says San Millan, who, in directing the cast, was careful not to interpose her own interpretation. “My approach was not to interject my point of view on it or color it religiously or philosophically. My point of view was to keep it as open as Beckett did.” Not a simple trick, when the playwright himself was so overpowering and controversial that it’s difficult for the most astute academic to remain open. Yet it continues to tempt actors great and small, like Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McKellen in a recent production at the Haymarket in London.
In this production at Rhinebeck’s Center, not-so-small, all-local Ulster and Dutchess talent has been chosen for the five-character play, with two casts for the roles of Pozzo, Lucky and Boy. Cast members include Douglas Woolley as Estragon, Gordon W. Brown as Vladimir, Mark Chandler Bailey and Norm Magnusson as Pozzo, Jim Granger and Andres San Millan as Lucky and Sebastian Gaddis as Boy, with understudy Isabel San Millan.
“Here’s the thing: This has been a really bad year economically. The whole world is so crazy. It is a great honor to be able to work on material that is rather esoteric. It’s very beautiful to simply contemplate our life on this planet. We feel like we’re trapped, waiting for something else, instead of just sitting and being with each other. I’m drawn to do it because I feel it’s important. People are being pushed up against the question: Who am I and what is this about?”
Experience Waiting for Godot at the Cocoon Theatre in Rhinebeck March 16 through April 1, on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and on Sundays at 3 p.m. Tickets cost $25, with some reserved seating available. Directed by Marguerite San Millan with sets by Andres San Millan, this production is made possible by special arrangement with Dramatist’s Play, Inc. Visit www.cocoontheatre.org or call Cocoon Theatre at (845) 876-6470 for further information.