I have a decades-old soft spot for Vladimir and Estragon, the hapless heroes of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. They fritter away one act, and then the other in a self-imposed holding pattern, getting on each other’s nerves as only long time companions can, unwilling to admit that the pretext holding them together has no grounding in reality.
It’s a hell of a metaphor for life—and the role of a lifetime for the actor lucky enough to snag either of those parts.
Sadly, females need not apply. Beckett insisted that male actors were the only ones who could bring “Didi” and “Gogo” to life, a rule his estate enforces aggressively. He laid out other stipulations, too, mainly having to do with the desolate country lane on which the action is set.
Beckett’s play is a hell of a metaphor for life. That’s why it’s a classic.
I get it—to a degree. Theater is a collaborative art, and it’s not always wise for the playwright to assume that every production will make a good faith effort to cleave to the spirit of the original.
Why Not Middle Aged Women Actors?
On the other hand, should you be so blessed as to have one of your plays achieve near-Shakespearean status, don’t get freaked out when kids of every stripe want to play with your toys. Like Shakespeare’s best known works, Waiting for Godot plumbs profound human truths, and, country lane aside, it doesn’t seem tethered to a particular time, place…or gender. If Prospero can become Prospera, why not a Didi who’s short for Denise?
Rather than stew or fly in the face of the Beckett estate, I decided the best course of action would be to write my own spin, using Godot’s characters and situation as a launch pad. What eventually emerged were 21 scenes featuring two middle-aged women—Didi and Gogo (short for Goneril)—mired in in a Sartrean hell of their own making.
I decided the best course of action would be to write my own spin. The result was 21 scenes featuring two middle-aged women waiting endlessly for something to happen.
Like their namesakes, their relationship is a bit obscure, as are their reasons for staying together. Socially, they’re adrift. Familiarity has bred both security and contempt. With apologies to the stars of the most recent Broadway revival (Ian McKellen, 78, and the very fit Patrick Stewart, 76), the playwright conceived of Vladimir and Estragon as old men. They’re at the end of the road, their paltry adventures in the rear view, nothing much to look forward to except …well, you know.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Waiting
Their Zamboni Godot counterparts, on the other hand, are—like the women who played them—at a more transitional time of life. I debuted the play this year at the Brick Theater in Brooklyn. On rehearsal breaks, conversation ranged from impending empty nest syndrome and the desire to travel or learn an instrument to Roz Chast’s Can We Talk About Something More Pleasant and the grim realities of the Internet dating pool. Those conversations didn’t make it onstage, but the push-me-pull-you between duty, deeply ingrained habits, and the time-sensitive yearning for personal fulfillment did.
From Scene 13: Didi (played by Chris Lindsay-Abaire) and Gogo (played by Marjorie Duffield) in the check-out line of a big box store
(indicating Didi’s heaping cart) What is all this junk?
How can you call it that?
(grabbing a pack of adult diapers off the top of the heap) Tell me why you need this.
The diapers, specifically?
Will they buy you happiness? Love?
…I suppose I thought a little security would be comforting, somehow.
But you have me.
Maybe it would be better if we parted.
(GOGO checks her phone)
What Are We Waiting For?
I doubt the ghost of Sam Beckett would welcome the addition of cell phones, but they are one fact of modern life I couldn’t resist. If Beckett’s Godot is destined—SPOILER!!!—never to arrive, it’s a pretty sure bet that he wouldn’t text either. But like many of us, Didi and Gogo are compulsive checkers, eternally pushing the lever in hope of reward: an admiring comment, a handful of corn, an amorphous, life-changing offer. We underscored the folly by outfitting them with flip phones.Young wolves read obsolete technology as a clear indicator that an old sheep should be put out to pasture…or worse.
Friends suggested locations in which Didi and Gogo could face endless waits—Times Square on New Year’s Eve, the plastic chairs of the ER and the DMV, in line to ride the Cyclone or the Liberty Island Ferry, the skating rink while the ice is being cleaned, which gave me the idea for the title.
Friends dug in their junk drawers for old phones to donate and also suggested locations in which Didi and Gogo could face endless waits—Times Square on New Year’s Eve, the plastic chairs of the ER and the DMV, in line to ride the Cyclone or the Liberty Island Ferry, the Verizon Store, the skating rink while the ice is being cleaned, which gave me the idea for the title.
It quickly became apparent that to do justice to these well-populated locations, Didi and Gogo would require company—a chorus. The seven chorus members rarely interacted with the main characters, though Didi, the more naturally sociable of the two, was an avid observer of the activities—knitting, in-flight-magazine reading, for example—and the body language of the chorus that surrounded them. How often do we assume that the strangers around us have figured out the secret to a meaningful fun-filled life? How often do they assume the exact same thing about us, surrendering to Facebook, Instagram, and all our other carefully curated Halls of Mirrors?
In real life, these strangers would reflect the diversity of the larger community, but Zamboni Godot’s chorus was composed exclusively of middle aged women. In an age of non-traditional casting, I think it’s about time a playwright skewed things in favor of this demographic rather than the hot young 20-somethings who clog the casting pool (pursuing Off-Off-Broadway credits while waiting tables and waiting for their big break). No word on whether the Ayun Halliday Estate will enforce this preference, but this dynamic allowed the original production to move an oft-sidelined demographic to center stage, and from there, later in the evening, across the street from the theater to a Mexican restaurant with excellent margaritas.
Didi and Gogo are both permutations of myself, but it’s up to each audience member to decide what the chorus was doing there, besides muscling nine red wooden chairs into various place to suggest each new setting. Underscoring the potential for emotional isolation in a physically non-isolated setting? Bearing witness? Demanding to be seen…or finding themselves under the microscope, the only specimens in the lab?
I’m satisfied knowing some audience members left reinvigorated to shake things up, to escape the thick mud of inertia, to pursue a new interest or resurrect one long-neglected.
Zamboni Godot isn’t the sort of “big issue” play that finds favor with well-funded professional producers or the Pulitzer Prize committee. I’m satisfied knowing some audience members left reinvigorated to shake things up, to escape the thick mud of inertia, to pursue a new interest or resurrect one long-neglected. I know a couple of chorus members who felt that way too…
GO TO NEXT PAGE TO READ ABOUT THE MIDDLE-AGED WOMEN WHO STEPPED OUT OF THEIR COMFORT ZONE TO ACT IN THIS PLAY.