Yesterday I had an amusing point/counterpoint experience. I saw Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot for the first time. Then I watched the last episode of Oprah. Seeing these two back to back is enough to give you whiplash.
Nobody knows exactly what Waiting for Godot means, but everybody agrees it’s got something to do with futility, hopelessness, apathy, and human suffering. Oprah is not about those things. She is the antithesis of Waiting for Godot. Oprah’s farewell message was about hope, gratitude, empowerment, validation, and a few other words Beckett would never have thought of using in 1949.
Beckett’s characters are, above all, helpless. They wait, they’re indecisive buffoons, and they’re ineffectual. They can’t even successfully hang themselves from the tree adorning the nearly bare stage. Oprah, in contrast, was preaching effectuality. She was saying dreams can come true. She was saying you can do it if you try.
So they’re opposites thematically, but they also have something in common. People hate both of them. Oprah-haters find her sanctimonious, and playgoers often find Beckett pretentious and boring. Our show (a 1961 episode of TV’s “Play of the Week,” starring Zero Mostel and Burgess Meredith, at the Cleveland Museum of Art) yesterday had at least four walk-outs. I’m here to say, though, that you can like both Oprah and Sam. Oprah’s authenticity, philanthropy, and joie de vivre temper her preachiness, at least for me, and Beckett’s poetic genius and humor redeem his work’s dry patches.
Finally, here’s why you really gotta love Oprah. Her website devotes a laudatory page to Waiting for Godot under the heading “10 Great Irish Writers,” another Beckett listing under “Five Books Everyone Should Read At Least Once,” and further reflections on Beckett from author John Edgar Wideman. In Oprah’s house, there are many mansions.
Share your thoughts about Oprah. Or Beckett.