If you’ve ever seen Waiting for Godot, maybe you’ve been mystified by Lucky’s gibberish tirade halfway through Act One, an eight-minute speech that begins “Given the existence as uttered forth in the public works of Puncher and Wattmann of a personal God quaquaquaqua with white beard quaquaquaqua” and gets weirder from there. And if you’ve spent any time in a synagogue, maybe you’ve also been mystified by the droning chants of a self-dramatizing cantor, speak-singing in a language you don’t understand. Now you can be mystified by both together — and perhaps understand each a little better as well — as the New Yiddish Rep revives its world-premiere production of the authorized Yiddish translation of Beckett’s 1953 classic. We’ve provided a little video sample here.
Vartn af Godo (leave off the last t for tsuris) is not as unlikely a mash-up as it may at first seem. Beckett, who had been in the French Resistance, began writing the play around 1948, in part responding to the horrors of World War II; it takes no wrenching of the text to situate its action in a post-Holocaust landscape. He certainly had an interest in Jews; in early drafts, Estragon was named Levy. Regardless of Beckett’s Judaic intentions, the play seems natural in Yiddish, never more so than when Rafael Goldwasser, as Lucky, delivers his thousand-years-of-sorrow monologue. (In Yiddish, it begins: “Ongenumen in der svore di hevaye vi derklert in di efntlekhe verk fun Zetser un Voserman fun a perzenlekhn got kvakvakvakva mit a vayser bord kvakvakvakva.”) As the translator Shane Baker (an Episcopalian from Kansas City who also plays Vladimir) says, “Who’s better at waiting than the Jews?”
Vartn af Godo, in Yiddish with English supertitles, is at the Barrow Street Theatre (as part of the Origin Theatre Company’s “1st Irish 2014” Festival) September 4 through 21.