Samuel Beckett’s famously spare language and staging in “Waiting for Godot” leaves much to the viewer’s own interpretation. And that’s how J.T. Marlowe, who is guest-directing Sweet Briar Theatre’s production of the play, wants to keep it.
“Waiting for Godot” will open at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 28, in Murchison Lane Auditorium at Babcock Fine Arts Center. The show follows a pre-show dinner and lecture at 6 p.m. in Johnson Dining Room at Prothro. Additional performances will be held at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, March 1-2, and at 2:30 p.m. March 3. The Sunday matinee will be sign-interpreted. Admission is $10 for adults, $7 for seniors, $5 for students, and free for children younger than 12 and for members of the Sweet Briar community. Area teachers and students will be admitted free on opening night, Feb. 28.
Marlowe, who previously directed and taught theater at Sweet Briar, is leading an ensemble cast in the play, which follows Beckett’s own notes from a production he directed in 1975.
“I hope to honor Beckett and the students here, using some of Beckett’s own direction ideas and his revisions to the text,” Marlowe said.
The cast members are Annabel Metson Wallace ’15, Charlotte Gibson Hopkins ’15, Molly Harper ’15, Sarah Muth ’14 and Caden John Campbell ’13, and local actors Omar Ott and Alex Miller.
The first staging of “Waiting for Godot” in 1953 was in French. Reaction to the radically original “tragicomedy in two acts,” as Beckett subtitled it, was slow to take shape. It has to sink in.
Peter Hall, writing in The Guardian in 2003 about the experience of directing the first production in English in 1955, said he didn’t immediately recognize it as a turning point in 20th-century drama — but he and many others would come to see it as a watershed.
“And it certainly took a month of intensive rehearsal for me to realise that the play was a masterpiece,” he wrote. “But from the very beginning, I thought it was blindingly original, turning the undramatic (waiting, doubt, perpetual uncertainty) into tense action. It was exquisitely constructed, with an almost musical command of form and thematic material. And it was very funny. It took the cross-talk tradition of music hall and made it into poetry.”
Those qualities made Marlowe, who teaches performing arts at Chapman University in Orange, Calif., want to return to Sweet Briar to direct the spring production.
“Like so many directors, actors, playwrights, we have been startled and influenced by Beckett’s mastery of crafting language into pure dramatic action — fully realized in this play,” Marlowe said.
The story revolves around Estragon and Vladimir, or Gogo and Didi as they call one another, two friends who are waiting for Godot. They fill the time with conversation, the tone of the dialogue ranging from slapstick comedy to bleak despair as they interact with a confusing world of nonsense and absurdities.
“The audience will experience this play and Beckett from their own perspective of what they think or feel is happening on the stage,” Marlowe says. “For me, the exploration of awakening to one’s purpose and the choices we make along the way; how we negotiate it all — who will help us along our path, what friendships, what connections, what love here and now — are ideas that engage and excite me.”