Godot Has Left the Building
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
June 21, 2006
Will Pomerantz, director of John Griffin's new play Godot Has Left the Building, tells us in a program note that this piece is "a conversation with Samuel Beckett's play." (The Beckett play is Waiting for Godot; if you didn't realize that, then much of this review may not make sense to you; sorry.)
Well, one admires Griffin for his... ballsiness is really the right word; and there is much in this script that makes me hope that this new playwright writes more plays (including a breathtaking moment of surprise in Act Two that may well have been the inspiration for this whole affair). But when one is conversing with what is arguably the most important play of the 20th century, one had better be an AWFULLY GOOD conversationalist. If not, one will be simply blown away, and I'm afraid that I have to report that that's exactly what happens to this well-intended but ultimately unsatisfying work.
It's set in a wasteland filled with the detritus of contemporary life, which in Pomerantz and set designer Garin Marschall's view is apparently mostly office life: the floor of the space at 45 Below is littered with Starbucks cups, shredded paper, milk crates, and a sea (covering almost all of the back of the stage) of discarded computer monitors. There's also a lone tree incongruously in the midst of all of this, a nod to Beckett's play.
Into this unwelcoming mess stumbles Joe (Edward Griffin), dressed for the office except his feet are bare. He doesn't know where he is and appears confused and even fearful. Suddenly, from a crevice where he had been sleeping, another man appears (we will learn later on that his name is Sebastian). Sebastian (Scott David Nogi) offers Joe company and what little hospitality seems available, but no hard information about where they are or where everybody else seems to have gotten to.
They spend a bit of time debating whether one another is real, or whether one or the other might be dreaming; and then:
JOE: How do we proceed?
SEBASTIAN: From where?
JOE: From here.
SEBASTIAN: We wait.
JOE: Oh. Right. (beat) But wait for what?
SEBASTIAN: That I’m not quite sure of.
You should not be surprised to learn that this exchange, more or less, is repeated many many times during the play. And here we come right to the root of Griffin's problem, the reason why his "conversation" with Beckett will wind up feeling so lopsidedly underwhelming compared with Beckett's initial conversation with the universe: if these two aren't waiting for anything, then what precisely is at stake for them? Beckett's characters eked out a meager and miserable existence—voraciously searching for the next carrot to eat, complaining that their shoes don't fit, worrying about the beatings they will get from unseen others—but their suffering gained meaning because the enigmatic Godot seemed to need them to hang around and endure it until he/she/it showed up for them.
Joe and Sebastian, in contrast, are never concerned about the basic elements of survival: they don't seem to have any food and don't seem to care; they share a single pair of boots, but nevertheless don't appear terribly uncomfortable. (Are they dead?) And Godot, as the title cues us, has left the building: whatever Godot is (and Beckett never told) doesn't figure in Joe and Sebastian's equation. So their suffering—and they do appear to be unhappy—is entirely of their own manufacture. I think that's Griffin's idea here; but I'm not really sure finally what it has to do with the weighty and essential questions that Beckett was posing in his play.
So Godot Has Left the Building emerges as half-hearted homage/sequel, replaying the structure and many of the ideas of Waiting for Godot without accomplishing anything very interesting. Some of the talk is engaging, but too often Griffin shoots himself in the foot with an exchange like this
SEBASTIAN: It doesn’t matter. We’ll all be dead soon anyway. Then where will we be? Will all this still be here or is it just a figment of our imagination, existing so long as we see it. Perhaps that’s all you are.
SEBASTIAN: A figment of my imagination. A figment of somebody else’s. Maybe we both just exist in someone else’s minds and neither one of us is really real. Who can really tell?
which only serves to remind us of this
VLADIMIR: Was I sleeping, while the others suffered? Am I sleeping now? Tomorrow, when I wake, or think I do, what shall I say of today? That with Estragon my friend, at this place, until the fall of night, I waited for Godot? That Pozzo passed, with his carrier, and that he spoke to us? Probably. But in all that what truth will there be?.... Astride of a grave and a difficult birth. Down in the hole, lingeringly, the gravedigger puts on the forceps. We have time to grow old. The air is full of our cries. But habit is a great deadener. At me too someone is looking, of me too someone is saying, He is sleeping, he knows nothing, let him sleep on. I can't go on!
Beckett's men reach out for one another and for hope in spite of everything. Griffin's men pull away from each other and the world. I think that's his point, and it's a good one. He should write a play about that, and leave the conversations with the endlessly eloquent Godot for its audiences past, present, and future.