Unlikely as it seems, it’s possible a playwright could appropriate elements from “Waiting for Godot” and update them to comment on our specific historical moment with a relevance not already present in Beckett’s piercing examination of human experience. However, that doesn’t happen in “Godot Has Left the Building.” John Griffin’s play may look like its inspiration — same empty road, same bare tree, same pair of waiting vagrants — but it lacks Beckett’s intelligence, emotion and originality. Whereas the older work expands our thinking with questions, the newer one insults us with simple-minded dogmatism.
The age of corporate technology has reduced us to what the playwright calls “numbers and business.” Our hearts and imaginations have died, and we are too blase to believe in anything. Even Vladimir and Estragon, the tramps in “Waiting for Godot,” had it better, since in their useless existence they at least had faith they were waiting for someone specific.
Our new vagabonds — Sebastian (Scott David Nogi) and Joe (Edward Griffin) — don’t even have that much purpose. “Why are we waiting?” one keeps asking. “I don’t know,” comes the other’s reply.
Yes, yes, yes. Technology poisons the soul. These are meaningless times. This reductive concept lurches through countless contemporary scripts. Yet Griffin and the creatives either think they have minted a concept or that their audience doesn’t get out much, because they deliver their moral with big ham hands.
Even before the play begins, its message is clear from a quick glance at Garin Marschall’s set. The stage, the bathrooms and the stairs to the street are littered with old computer monitors and keyboards, placing a technological wasteland on top of the lonely road and tree. Also in the mix are piles of used Starbucks cups.
Is there any modern symbol more exhausted? Of course this production is about the dehumanizing effect of modern technology and corporate control, because that’s the only thing Starbucks cups are ever used to represent.
And to make sure he doesn’t alter the symbol in any way, director Will Pomerantz closes both acts by having cups fall from the ceiling. Still too sophisticated? A Starbucks deluge also pelts the Old Man (Bert Gurin), a character dressed in black trench coat and dark glasses who wanders onstage just to sum up the play’s thesis in one interminable speech.
This kind of pandering massacres the theater by telling us what everything means.
And it’s especially infuriating here because the references to “Waiting for Godot” just invite comparisons with how this exact milieu has been used to superior effect. The corpses of Vladimir and Estragon are even buried onstage — Joe and Sebastian dig up their famous boots and bowler hats — but their bodies imply a different kind of death than the one the playwright intends.
As for the living tramps, Nogi and Griffin perform with high energy, but they can’t rescue characters this flat. Sebastian is a dreamer, eager to play games, find flowers and contemplate the meaning of existence. Joe is a pragmatist, always providing Sebastian with a foil. Their relationship is immediately obvious and does not change.
But how could the characters possibly evolve? “Godot Has Left the Building” is too narrow to provide the space.