I’ve mentioned before that although I dabble in fiction, plays are the only things I can sit still for when they’re done live. However, I’ve rarely been blown away by a play to the point I was left speechless. That happened, oddly, in Albania.
First some background. During my undergraduate and Master’s Degree days I was smitten by the works of Samuel Beckett. He’s an Irishman who wrote in French, translated his work back into English (changing it along the way) and apparently used to drive Andre the Giant to school. His works are generally very bleak and darkly comic and feature old men who talk a lot (i.e. me) and are slowly running out of things to say (again, me).
After I got to Albania, the work that most reminded me of Albania (after William Butler Yeats “The Second Coming“) was the play Waiting For Godot. It’s the story of two old bums who are waiting for someone named Godot. They don’t know what he’ll do when he arrives, they don’t know if they’re waiting in the right place, and they don’t even know if he’s already been there and left. All they do is wait and pass the time by talking about random things and complaining about their various physical ailments (which, by colossal coincidence, is pretty much what happens when a group of Peace Corps volunteers get together).
Albania, when I got there, was like that. Things had fallen apart. Everything was broken. Everyone was waiting for this thing called “democracy”. They weren’t sure what it was and they weren’t sure what it was going to do when it got there. They just knew they were supposed to wait for it. They’d been told it was a big deal.
Then, during my second year, a local theater put on a production of Waiting for Godot in Albanian. Because I had an odd connection to the Open Society Fund for Albania (Soros), I managed to score a ticket in the second row. I ended up sitting next to a fellow expat I didn’t get along with very well (well, he didn’t like me much anyway), but the ticket was free so I didn’t care.
Waiting for Godot has only five characters who actually appear and Godot who is only talked about. The set is usually bare except for a dying tree. The Albanian set had a tree made out of pipes and was uncomfortably bright as they never turned down the auditorium lights.
Although it was in Albanian, I knew the play well enough to follow along. At one point, the main bums Vladimir and Estragon are joined by the pompous Pozzo and his slave, victim, friend Lucky. As part of Pozzo’s attempt to impress the other two, Lucky is encouraged to “think” and gives a long monologue that is 90% gibberish (but still more interesting than most State of the Union speeches). The actor who played lucky killed it. He actually got a show stopping ovation in the middle of the play. (I think I was standing, too.)
At the end of the play, the audience couldn’t stop applauding and the guy I didn’t get along with and I were suddenly temporary pals (mostly because all we could say was “wow”). The cast just stood around simultaneously looking uncomfortable and soaking in the applause as if they didn’t know what they were supposed to do next.
I somehow managed to acquire a poster of the event which I still own. I wish someone had made a recording of it.