Samuel Beckett Waiting for Godot / Studio 54, New York City; the production I saw was a matinee on Saturday, May 9, 2009
Through accidental intent I saw three plays on my recent trip to New York City, all works from the 1950s through the early 1960s that revealed not only Auden's description of that period as "The Age of Anxiety," but reiterated from me the dramatic tensions at play in 1950s society. All three works might be described by the subtitle of Waiting for Godot (1953), a "tragicomedy," although one does not necessarily think of that phrase in relationship with West Side Story. Yet its appropriateness became clearer than ever upon seeing Arthur Laurent's new production.
VLADIMIR: We'll hang ourselves to-morrow. (Pause.) Unless Godot comes.
ESTRAGON: And if he comes?
VLADIMIR: We'll be saved.
Even the child who reports each day that Godot (pronounced in this production as Godot) will not arrive describes his master in the standard Christian manner: a man with a white beard. Yet if this elusive Godot is God, perhaps we would be better without him, or, at least better off not spending our entire lives in wait.
Based as it is on Shakespeare's great tragedy, Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story at first appears to be without the comic redemption of the Beckett and Ionesco plays. Yes, there are comic moments in Laurent's script, the self mockery of the Jet's psychologically frenzied lives expressed in "Gee, Officer Krupke" and the equally playful putdown of the Shark women against a girl who wants to return to Puerto Rico in "America" (note: unlike the great dance scene in the motion picture version of the musical, in which both Shark males and females dance "America," the stage version includes only women). And there are those tender and light moments "Something Coming," "One Hand, One Heart," and "I Feel Pretty"(sung in this production in Spanish). But for most viewers, I suggest, West Side Story would not seem to be properly described as a tragicomedy. Where's the comedy? many might ask.
On the streets of the upper West Side, New York, Tony has no choice but to fight for his own kind, even if it means destroying, in the process, the woman he loves. Only Maria seems intellectually to be able to create a different reality, a reality not based on territorial and familial domains, but on love; despite the fact that Tony has killed her own brother, she insists that her love for Tony takes precedence.
Los Angeles, May 30, 2009