Waiting For Godot: Luke Pound’s New Translation

Porter Orvetti, Contributing Writer

Walking into the newly renovated Michelson Theater, I had no expectations of what show I was about to see. I typically love theater. But I was frankly dreading the prospect of watching multiple acts of a show that I may not understand.

The original script for Waiting For Godot was written by Samuel Beckett in French, with an English translation written soon thereafter. Clark graduate student Luke Pound ’22 was not fully satisfied with the English translation, leading him to get funds from Clark to retranslate the classic.

Before the show began Pound gave context about why he decided to adapt Waiting For Godot. After reading both the French and English versions of the play, he noticed the English version was missing many of the jokes, meanings, and substance the original French version had, despite being translated by the original author. Pound mentioned that this was partially due to Beckett’s poor translation skills. It was known that if Beckett did not know how to properly write something in English, he would leave it out entirely.

The play follows two main characters, Vladimir and Estragon, patiently waiting for a man named Godot. The two are locked in an existential crisis as Godot never shows up despite the men continuing to wait every day on the top of a mountain. They are continuously being promised that he will show up the next day to no avail. Waiting for Godot also features three side characters that meet Vladimir and Estragon. At one point, Pozzo and his servant Lucky come and entertain the two with Lucky dancing and reciting a comically long monologue, despite the abuse by Pozzo.

Directed by Laura Ekstrand, the performance used a read-through style, with every actor having a script throughout the production. When not in a scene, actors sat in chairs near the back of the black box stage watching the action and getting ready for their time in the show. Doing the show as a well-planned read-through worked well for the new translation. The production focused almost exclusively on the text, while not removing the acting and physical comedy that makes Waiting for Godot great. Even as a readthrough, it was clear that the actors had spent a lot of time memorizing, preparing, and dissecting the text.

During the discussion, one actor mentioned that the new translation was still going through large changes during rehearsals, even up until the day of the show. Nicole Overbach had an excellent performance of Estragon, playing up the character’s physicality and keeping the audience engaged even with the long nature of the text. Zachary Zawilla also did a great job as Vladimir, especially at the end of his final monologue. Both Zachary and Nicole had great stage presence with one another and had enough character contrast to always keep the show interesting, even with its slow-building nature. Pozzo, played by Connor Sheehy, added much-needed comedic relief and demanded the stage when he was on. Both the Boy and Lucky were played by Cole Norman who, while not speaking a ton in the show, perfectly understood the physicality of Lucky as well as his very long and fast monologue. Vivian Young read out the stage directions of the new translation and ensured the audience understood what was happening, even when it was not portrayed in the read-through.

Because Pound decided to leave nothing out, the new translation was very long and many audience members decided to leave after the hour and forty-five-minute first act. While understandable, seeing the second half really brings meaning to the entire story. The second act is essentially a repeat of the first act, just with characters saying and acting in different ways. For instance, Pozzo and Lucky come back in, but they don’t remember seeing Vladimir and Estragon the day prior. Another example is that the Boy, who in the first act tells them Godot will come the next day, this time says that he will not. The second act really solidifies the fact that they are waiting forever for something they don’t truly understand, a sad reality that creates meaning for the show.

After the show ended, Pound asked the audience one large question; “what is Waiting For Godot about?” There were many answers in the crowd with one person stating that it is about society, another about waiting for God, and even one person saying that one of the points of the show was that it can have many meanings. One audience member asked the translator what his interpretation of the show was, and while reluctant to say, he gave some thoughts that he felt were underrepresented by people trying to understand the text. Luke Pound felt that the fact the show is set in France is much more important to the story than originally understood. Being written only three years after the end of world war two, the show could be even understood to be about war and the meaning of life from that. As for my own interpretation, coming out of the Little Center I kept thinking about my own life and what really comes after. Truly, we are all waiting for death and we cannot fully know when it will come, or what will come after.