“On Waiting for Godot” by Magdalen Ki

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Directed by Wu Xing-guo, this production opens in heavy shadow and with brooding music. Two tramps then enter the stage, walking with a heavy gait. Godot (果陀) is sinicized to become the Buddha, the symbol of hope that can save humans from dukkha (suffering). The plight of Gogo (哭哭) and Didi (啼啼) is that nirvana is nowhere to be found and, day by day, the white-bearded Buddha is deferring his visit.

In Beckett’s version, Waiting for Godot questions the active and contemplative pathways to achieve salvation. The active ones do not need Godot: Pozzo loves action, and displays a full range of CEO personality disorders. Lucky is so burdened that he has forfeited the will to resist, and his necromaniac eschatology qua aphasia qua word salad qua workaholism means that “only time will tell” what is the meaning of true release. In due time, a busy life leads to blindness and dumbness. Unimpressed, Gogo and Didi stick to an inactive lifestyle, contemplating the fate of the two thieves on the cross, and their chances of being saved. Uncommitted to the Benedictine doctrine of ora et labora, they walk, talk, and rant randomly. By the time they lose their memory and their spirituality, they are so unaccustomed to doing anything that putting on a pair of boots or attempting suicide becomes an onerous, if not an impossible, task. They keep on waiting for Godot because they are now addicted to waiting: they cannot let go—an obvious case of sunk cost fallacy.

In Wu’s production, the co-dependent dynamics remain the same, but the Chinese costume, the masks, the props, the stylised singing, miming, plus the hip hop dancing give the adaptation an unmistakably postmodern twist. The eclectic fusion of Peking Opera and Epic theatre, an absurdist plot and a remix emphasis give Beckett’s play a new lease of life. Pozzo’s period costume—as a government official—indicates the setting of a feudalistic China, and his servant, to him, is not Lucky but Rubbish (垃圾). The benefit of being an outcast is that the two tramps can entertain a relatively egalitarian outlook. They intermingle classical and vernacular Chinese, poetic songs with bawdy jokes (sexually transmitted diseases), naturalistic acting (peeing) with stylised actions that characterise the Peking Opera. They link the trauma of waiting to chaos in the contemporary Legislative Yuan. The free inclusion of anachronistic references, pop cultural elements, and different theatrical traditions—Chinese, Brechtian, Beckettian, realist—make the show an unforgettable experience.

The effects are multiple: Wu’s production pokes fun at traditional Chinese theatre and subverts its high-brow conventions: is it necessary to perform a very respectful deep bow when one bids farewell to a dignified character? The show also laughs at the concept of Epic acting and the doctrine of the alienation effect. When the actors say they are waiting for Godot, their oscillating hand movements prevent the audience from identifying with them, or developing any hero-worship of Godot; yet the audience may not enter into a critical frame of mind because they are constantly distracted by the funny gestures. This adaptation also mocks the idea of nirvana, or at least the idea of passive waiting to actualise nirvana. Finally, it also ridicules the absurd mutability of life—so full of disasters and disease—and the immutability of human thought—so full of (false) hope.

Hoping against hope, Gogo and Didi remain on stage until the light goes out. Elizabeth Barrett Browning once stated that ‘[k]nowing that when light is gone, / Love remains for shining.’ Yet this play is not about the power of love between Gogo and Didi. As the curtain falls, the Contemporary Legend Theatre presents to us the dark side of relationship addiction—I hate you, but don’t leave me. I have to go, but here I stay.

Pictured with MALCS students (2017-2018)


Maddie KiMagdalen Ki is Associate Professor at the Department of English. [Click here to read all entries by Magdalen.]


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