On a chilly New York Sunday morning, I was sitting outside the Cort Theatre near Times Square. For three hours, a small group of about fifteen huddled in our coats, hats, and scarves.
You may ask what we were doing sitting out in the cold. Well, we were waiting for Waiting for Godot.
At noon, we were able to purchase our rush tickets, and about ten of us were lucky enough to get front row seats to see Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Patrick Stewart perform in one of the world’s most famous plays.
For anyone unfamiliar with Waiting for Godot, it concerns two men who are awaiting the arrival of a figure named Godot. That’s it. It really is a play about nothing.
A little more than a year ago, I wrote about my experiences discovering the works of Samuel Beckett in a course I took on him. The experience, to say the least, was frustrating. But after I saw McKellen and Stewart (joined by the second talented duo of Billy Crudup and Shuler Hensley) perform the play, I finally felt like I got Godot.
That day, I had gone about seeing Waiting for Godot the right way. Three hours of waiting, of doing nothing, and then three more hours until the actual performance. Six hours total of waiting and buildup.
Luckily for us audience members, there was payoff. For the characters, there isn’t. Having waited hours to see the play made the hopelessness of the characters – waiting, waiting, waiting with nothing happening – all the more heartbreaking.
I remember the professor of my class on Beckett trying to get us to understand this theme of the dull emptiness of waiting, but it just wasn’t happening. Even the professor acknowledged that it was a difficult concept to understand without seeing the play.
And here’s the key: Waiting for Godot shouldn’t be read. It shouldn’t even be seen filmed. It has to be seen in front of you, in a theatre, where you can’t look away. Where you’re trapped there just like Gogo and Didi.
There’s a reason Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart are acting legends, and they illustrate the tragedy and comedy hidden in Waiting for Godot, bringing the text to life in a way that made me finally understand its genius.
It was a privilege to be in the audience watching those two work their magic together. Whether they were dancing, bantering, or switching those iconic bowler hats, McKellen and Stewart kept us entertained – and, more importantly, thinking – for all two hours of “nothing.”
And that’s not to mention the amazingly orderly stage door, which allowed every fan to get their autographs. But that’s a story for another time.