GreenMan Theatre Troupe presents Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett

April 7 - 23, 2006

Friday & Saturday at 7:30; Sunday at 3:00

(no performance on Easter, April 16)

at the Masonic Temple, 103 Arthur Street, Elmhurst

$15 for adults, $12 students & seniors, $10 groups of 10 or more


Special Performance at McNally’s Pub, 122 S York Street, Elmhurst,

on Samuel Beckett’s 100th Birthday -- April 13 at 7:30

Appetizers & cash bar starting at 6:30.  $30, advance reservation required.


with Lars Timpa, Ben Dooley, Steven Bayer, Dennis D. Stewart, Richie Roesner.

Directed by Craig Gustafson, Assistant Director: Aimee Kennedy Cohler
Producers: Jill Perez, Carole Thorpe.
Presented by special arrangement with Dramatists Play Service, Inc.


Website: www.greenmantheatre.com




Who is Godot?  What does he Mean?  Is he supposed to be God?

The magic words: Who Cares?  Godot is what Alfred Hitchcock called the MacGuffin – a plot device about which the characters care desperately, but the audience isn’t meant to give a damn.  The original French title literally translates as While Waiting for Godotand that’s what the show is about.  Not Godot and who or what he represents, but Didi & Gogo and how Man (I’m not going to use “Person” for the generic term; deal with it) spends his time on Earth, waiting for whatever comes next.  That’s what Godot is: Whatever Comes Next – and there’s no way to define that.  Trying to peg What Godot Means is about as fruitful as wanting the exact measurements of the Maltese Falcon.  We care about the Falcon only to the extent that Sam Spade, Brigid, Gutman & Cairo care.  The people, not the Falcon itself, are the focal points of The Maltese Falcon.  Same thing here; Godot is ultimately of no importance to us.  What is important is how Man survives the waiting.


Why are you pronouncing “Godot” wrong?

I had a woman become very cross with me last year because she thought I was mispronouncing the title of one of the most famous plays in history.  But “Godot” is not pronounced “G’doh!”, as if Homer Simpson were greeting an Australian.  The correct pronunciation is “Goddo”, as if he were the sixth Marx Brother – Groucho, Harpo, Chico, Zeppo, Gummo, Goddo.  See the quotes below for corroboration.


What’s with all the quotes, anyway?

The quotes (mainly from Beckett himself) are there to back up all my choices and assert that they are choices Beckett would have approved.


Why is this production so giddy?  Isn’t it supposed to be full of despair?

See the quotes below for why I directed this as a comedy.  My bible for this show is a massive book called The Theatrical Notebooks of Samuel Beckett – Waiting for Godot.  It’s a record of the rewrites, cuts and directorial decisions Beckett made when staging his own play.  Absolutely invaluable.  For instance, directors often puzzle about the “Where are all these corpses from?” section in Act Two: What the hell are these guys talking about?  What does it mean?  Beckett’s notebook specifies that they have suddenly seen the audience and are horrified.  It’s a gag.  It’s a dig at the audience.  What it’s not is an Intellectual Mountain.  Much of the fog in the more mystical sections clears away when you can say, “Hello!  It’s a joke!”  In the quotes below, it is reiterated that (A) this is a tragicomedy and (B) it needs to move quickly and avoid pontificating.


Then why is it usually played as philosophical drama?

Serious Intellectuals tend to regard everything as Serious and, regrettably, they are usually the ones who are sufficiently interested and energized to do the show.  To them, everything in the show doesn’t have a meaning, it has Meaning.  They are so busy searching for clues to the cosmos that they forget to have fun.  Beckett’s influences, in addition to his outlook on life, are the characters played by people like Laurel & Hardy, Buster Keaton and the Marx Brothers.  Why else make Didi and Gogo vaudevillian clowns?  Why throw in an Act Two hat-switching routine straight out of Laurel & Hardy?  Why have someone drop his pants for a laugh?


Serious People find this show tragic because they see Man’s situation as basically tragic and bleak – Man is Noble and suffers Nobly.  Beckett’s view is a comedic one. Comedy sees Man as essentially silly.  Comedy sees the ridiculous side of things.  In addition to the love, devotion and nobility of which Man is capable, Beckett delineates the trivial, vapid, selfish, self-pitying way Man goes about his business.  Comedy doesn’t gloss over the warts; it points at them and yells, “Look at all the warts!”  Comedy says that it’s better to acknowledge the warts than to pretend that they’re beautiful, tragic freckles.


This is not a bleak play.  It sees the silliness and futility, but has a grudging admiration and love for Man’s ability to navigate the tedium and for the unflagging resilience of hope.  That’s why we’re interpreting the ending the way we are – it’s a show about hope, not despair.


There are differences in the script.  What did you rewrite?

Not a thing.  Every word, every cut was written by Samuel Beckett, as outlined in the previously mentioned Theatrical Notebooks.  This was the fine-tuning he did every time he directed Godot.  The editors of the Notebooks claim that these changes mark Beckett’s definitive Godot.  I hope so – at least as far as the script is concerned.  There can be no definitive performance, only interpretations.  Which is why GreenMan Theatre Troupe and Riverfront Playhouse enouraged people to see both productions.  Waiting for Godot is rarely performed in Chicagoland, let alone simultaneous productions where you can really get a feel for the interpretive possibilities of live theatre.


What’s the Clown Hierarchy?

A system of categorizing comedians.  To see how Waiting for Godot fits into this system, go here: www.bozolisand.com/clownranks.html. 



And now… on with the Quotes!


Even with American actors [Beckett] insists that it be pronounced “God oh”, with the stress on the first syllable.


From Beckett in the Theatre by Dougald McMillan and Martha Fehsenfeld



In order to counter the natural American tendency to stress the second syllable in the name “Godót”, Beckett asked the San Quentin Drama Workshop actors to consciously pronounce it with the stress on the first syllable instead, i.e. “Gódot”.


From The Theatrical Notebooks of Samuel Beckett – Waiting for Godot  Edited by Dougald McMillan and James Knowlson.



 [Beckett] told Alan Schneider, the director of the first American production of the play, that Godot had neither meaning nor symbolism. To Schneider’s ques­tion, “Who or what does Godot mean,” Beckett replied, “If I knew, I would have said so in the play.” Schneider also noted that, while Beckett was quite willing to discuss specific details of the play, he thought that his work should speak for itself and was perfectly willing to let its supposed meanings “fall where they may.”


Quotes from Alan Schneider’s “Working with Beckett” in Samuel Beckett: The Critical Heritage, ed. Lawrence Graver and Raymond Federman.



INTERVIEWER: How can you be so preoccupied with salvation when you don’t believe in it?


BECKETT: I am interested in the shape of ideas, even if I do not believe in them. There is a wonderful sentence in Augus­tine. I wish I could remember the Latin. It is even finer in Latin than in English: “Do not despair; one of the thieves was saved. Do not presume; one of the thieves was damned.” That sentence has a wonderful shape. It is the shape that matters.


“Samuel Beckett — Dramatist of the Year,” by Harold Hobson, Inter­national Theatre Annual, 1956, 1, pp. 153—155.)  Quoted in Reading Godot by Lois Gordon.



Other reviewers were equally enthusiastic, and then, from the playwright Jean Anouilh, came the most succinct and elo­quent of all the early tributes:


“Nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes, it’s awful.” This line spoken by one of the characters in the play, provides its best summary. Godot is a masterpiece that will cause despair for men in general and for playwrights in particular. I think that the opening night at the Théâtre de Babylone is as important as the opening of Pirandello [Six Characters in Search of an Author] in Paris in 1923, presented by Pitoeff.


One can only raise one’s hat — a bowler to be sure, as in the play — and pray to heaven for a little talent. The greatness, the artful playing, a style — we are “somewhere” in the theatre. The music-hall sketch of Pascal’s Pensées as played by the Fratellini clowns.


Quoted in Beckett – Waiting for Godot by Lawrence Graver.



The early success of the play, [Beckett] told Alec Reid in 1956, was based on a fundamental misunderstanding. Critics and public alike insisted on interpreting in allegorical or symbolic terms a play which strove at all cost to avoid definition. “The end,” as Reid quoted Beckett, “is to give artistic expression to something hitherto almost ignored — the irrational state of unknowingness where we exist, this mental weightlessness which is beyond reason.” (Drama Survey, Autumn 1962).


Quoted in Beckett – Waiting for Godot by Lawrence Graver.



That Godot should be performed again and again in prisons quite nicely fits Beckett’s own sen­timents about the work. He once told the journalist Alden Whitman that “the true Godot was the one produced in a German prison, with the convicts as actors. They [and the audience] understood that ‘Godot’ is hope, ‘Godot’ is life — aimless, but always with an element of hope.” (New York Times, 24 October 1969, p. 32).


Quoted in Beckett – Waiting for Godot by Lawrence Graver.



Directing the falling sequence in Act II, [Beckett] instructed the actor playing Lucky not to fall realistically but in a stylized way. When asked if there was to be no naturalism whatever, he replied: “It is a game, everything is a game. When all four of them are lying on the ground, that cannot be handled naturalistically. That has got to be done artificially, with beauty, like ballet. Otherwise, everything becomes only an imitation of reality.” And to the question “Should it take on a dryness?” he answered: “It should become clear and transparent, not dry. It is a game in order to survive.”


Quoted in Beckett – Waiting for Godot by Lawrence Graver.



Vladimir and Estragon suggest clowns more than they do tramps: Footit and Chocolat, Alex and Zavetta, Pipo and Rhum, the Fratellini Trio, the Marx Brothers, or the traditional comedians of the English music hall.  Clowns are second-degree characters who have a precise stage function, resembling that of the Shakespearean fool.  One does not ask questions about their origin, social condition, or language – which is alternately coarse, poetic and profound – just as one does not ask these questions about the Fool of Lear, about Touchstone or Thersites.


From “Beckett’s Clowns” by Geneviève Serreau, from Histoire de Nouveau Théâtre; translated from the French by Ruby Cohn for Casebook on Waiting for Godot.



Beckett’s immediate model for the pair of men in Waiting for Godot would seem to be less literary than [Robinson Crusoe]. Didi and Gogo in their bowler hats, one of them marvellously incompetent, the other an ineffective man of the world devoted (some of the time) to his friend’s care, resemble nothing so much as they do the classic couple of 1930s cinema, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, whose troubles with such things as hats and boots were notorious, and whose dialogue was spoken very slowly on the assumption that the human understanding could not be relied on to work at lightning speed. The mise-en-scène of their films was a country of dreams, at least in this respect, that no explanation of their relationship was ever ventured. They journeyed, they undertook quests, they had adventures; their friendship, tested by bouts of exasperation, was never really vulnerable; they seemed not to become older, nor wiser; and in perpetual nervous agitation, Laurel’s nerves occasionally protesting like a baby’s, Hardy soliciting a philosophic calm he could never quite find leisure to settle into, they coped. Neither was especially competent, but Hardy made a big man’s show of competence. Laurel was defeated by the most trifling requirements. Hence, in Way Out West (1937):


HARDY:  Get on the mule.

LAUREL:  What?

HARDY:  Get on the mule.


which comes as close as we need ask to the exchange in the last moments of Godot:


VLADIMIR:  Pull on your trousers.


VLADIMIR:  Pull on your trousers.

ESTRAGON:  You want me to pull off my trousers?

VLADIMIR:  Pull on your trousers.

ESTRAGON: (realizing his trousers are down). True. He pulls up his trousers.


In the same film there is much fuss with Laurel’s boots, the holes in which he patches with inedible meat, thus attracting unwanted dogs. Waiting for Godot begins:


Estragon, sitting on a low mound, is trying to take off his boot. He pulls at it with both hands, panting. He gives up, exhausted, rests, tries again. As before. Enter Vladimir.


ESTRAGON: (giving up again). Nothing to be done.


Insofar as the play has a “message,” that is more or less what it is: “Nothing to be done.” There is no dilly-dallying; it is delivered in the first moments, with the first spoken words, as though to get the didactic part out of the way. And yet they go on doing, if we are to call it doing. There is a ritual exchange of amenities, from which we learn that Vladimir (as it were, Hardy) takes pride in his superior savoir-faire (“When I think of it . . . all those years . . . but for me where would you be. . . [Decisively.] You’d be nothing more than a little heap of bones at the present minute, no doubt about it”). We also learn that if Estragon has chronic foot trouble, Vladimir has chronic bladder trouble. The dialogue comes round again to the theme words “Nothing to be done,” this time spoken by Vladimir; and as he speaks these words the action also comes round to where it started, with Estragon by a supreme effort belying the words and pulling off his boot. That is one thing accomplished anyhow.


He peers inside it, feels about inside it, turns it upside down, shakes it, looks on the ground to see if anything has fallen out, finds nothing, feels inside it again, staring sightlessly before him.


These are instructions to an actor, though few actors succeed in finding out how to follow them. It is just here that many productions begin to go astray, the actor supposing that he is called upon to enact something cosmic. Either that, or he patters through the gestures mindlessly, in a hurry to get to something he can make sense of. His best recourse would be to imagine how Stan Laurel would inspect the interior of a boot, intent as though an elephant might drop out of it, or some other key to life’s problems.


From A Reader’s Guide to Samuel Beckett by Hugh Kenner



The derbies came early during the period of the silent shorts. Babe Hardy had been wearing a derby for comic effect since 1914 without any idea that it was an imitation of anyone. (Someone told him at the height of his suc­cess that it might in part be attributed to the fact that he and Stan had “copied” Chaplin’s use of the derby.) Stan says, “The derby hat to me has always seemed to be part of a comic’s make-up for as far back as I can remember. I’m sure that’s why Charlie wore one. Most of the comics we saw as boys wore them, so I guess you’d say that’s one item that’s strictly in the public domain.”


From Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy by John McCabe




Mendel’s Berlin production also had a heaviness which ran counter to the spirit Beckett described to Alan Schneider as essential to his works. He called Schneider’s attention to “the need for laughter throughout the play”, saying, “All my plays should be played light and fast. I don’t want to dwell upon their seriousness… my plays shouldn’t be ponderous.”


Mendel tells how he and Beckett attempted to restore comedy and simplicity to the production:


When I was directing Godot in Berlin in 1965 I was having a terrible time. Beckett came over to help me. The whole production was unacceptable. There wasn’t the slightest laugh. There wasn’t any lightness. They were all doing A BECKETT PLAY in capital letters. Neither Sam nor I was satisfied. Sam said to “relax above all.”


From Beckett in the Theatre by Dougald McMillan and Martha Fehsenfeld



In preparing for the one-man Beckett revue, Beginning to End:


As his understanding of Sam’s work grew, Jack’s performance became insanely comical.  More and more, he realized, the misfits who people the Beckett landscape were blood brothers to the silent film comics and music hall clowns both actor and author had so admired in their youth.


When Jack asked Sam how much laughter he expected from the show, the answer came readily: “As much as you can get.”  The stuff of Beckett was tragicomedy, not morbidity and despair.  Somehow, it had gotten turned around.  “People find Beckett morose,” MacGowran said once in disbelief.  “I find him so funny.”


From The Beckett Actor – Jack MacGowran, Beginning to End by Jordan R. Young



Steve Martin (Vladimir in Waiting for Godot – Lincoln Center, 1988) – I saw it as a comedy.  I mean, I thought there were great, smart high and low laughs in the play.  And they must be served; almost first.  Because the language of the play takes care of itself. The structure of the play takes care of itself. The comedy won’t take care of itself. Unless it’s delivered.


From an interview for the documentary Waiting for Beckett.



ADDED MAY 2, 2009: Anthony Page (Director of the 2009 Broadway revival of Waiting for Godot) –
INTERVIEWER: The actors in this revival of “Waiting for Godot” pronounce the title character’s name as GOD-dough, with the accent on the first syllable. In this country, at least, I’ve heard it pronounced Go-DOUGH, with the accent on the second syllable.

PAGE: Well GOD-dough is what Samuel Beckett said. Also, the word has to echo Pozzo. That’s the right pronunciation. Go-DOUGH is an Americanism, which isn’t what the play intended. (Page worked with Beckett on a British production of Godot in the 1960s.)


From an interview in the New York Times about the Broadway revival, April 30, 2009.




To see pictures and reviews of the GreenMan Theatre Troupe production of
Waiting for Godot
Click here.