A Dream Not Deferred

How many of us give up on our dreams?

Miles Dean was born in Brooklyn and lived in New Jersey in the 1950s, but from the time he was a kid he dreamed of being a cowboy. That dream was fed, as it was for me and thousands of other baby boomers, by countless TV westerns like the Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers, Hopalong Cassidy, Johnny Mack Brown, and Rex Allen. I too dreamed of riding the range on a powerful steed like Trigger, KoKo, or Champion, saving comely young women from nefarious bandits, and engaging in shootouts from behind huge boulders that bullets ricocheted off of harmlessly with that awful, artificial ping.

Dean grew up a normal, well-loved kid, went to school, got a wrestling scholarship at Howard University, and became a teacher. But the dream of riding the range never left him. In 1986, he bought his first horse. Always the teacher, he soon was giving riding lessons to children. His inner cowboy kept nagging at him, and by the mid 1990s he got a crazy idea: he decided to ride across the United States – on horseback.

His trip had to be put off when he was diagnosed with a non-malignant brain tumor. Refusing treatment, he treated the tumor holistically and the treatments seemed to work. Now, however, he realized he couldn’t defer his dream any longer.

In September 2007 Dean began his ride from Manhattan to Los Angeles, a trip that took him across thirteen states and took 6 months. Along the way, he made stops at sites marking famous events in black history and connected meaningfully with other black pioneers whose names have only recently become known to us.

A writer and educator from New Jersey named Lisa Winkler met Dean in 2008 after he finished his cross-country trek, and became fascinated by the story. The result is her book On The Trail of the Ancestors: A Black Cowboy’s Ride Across America (Createspace, February 2012).

I read this book in one sitting (it is only 128 pages long), so inspired was I by the story of a man whose dream never died. Miles Dean is, by all accounts, a true teacher and—like the best teachers—a perpetual student.

The trip was grueling and dangerous at times. But exhilarating. Friends took turns driving a trailer with a fresh horse along the way, and whenever Dean came close to a stopping point other riding enthusiasts would occasionally accompany him part of the way. Children would line up to pet his Arabian buckskin, Sankofa (one of several horses that made the trek, and his favorite). What is truly amazing is how quickly word spread, and police officers frequently accompanied him on his ride through their communities, some of them ignoring the laws that prohibited horses being ridden on public byways. He was not only studying history, he was making history: no black man had ever ridden a horse across the United States, and African-American cops who encountered him sensed the momentousness of his ride with a swelling pride.

His ride is a history lesson that is not lost on Dean’ students today, or on us. His website is well worth a visit. Few of us are aware that the Mall in Washington, D.C. was created by slaves, and once hosted slave auctions. Or that an African American named Blanche K. Bruce was elected to serve in the US Senate in 1874 (his political career ended in 1881 when the Jim Crow laws prohibited political participation by blacks). A black jockey, Oliver Lewis, who rode a horse named Aristides, won the first Kentucky Derby, in 1875. And, of course, as anyone who ever saw the made-for-TV movie Buffalo Soldiers (1997) can tell you, black troopers escorted white settlers on their trek west, fighting hostile tribes and highwaymen. Some of these units later fought with Teddy Roosevelt in Cuba. Everywhere Dean rode, he encountered African-American contributions to our history that he would later share with his kids. He was living his history on horseback.

This is a beautifully written, meticulously edited, and deeply moving book. It sets the bar for self-published works and makes me wonder even more about the shortsightedness of a publishing industry that would not snap it up.

Miles Dean is a man I would love to meet. He is a man with a dream, a passion for educating, and a man possessed of a true pioneering spirit. Winkler does his dream great justice and reminds us all not to let our dreams die before we do.

Rating (4/5)

Copyright Isaac Morris 2102

News: Bob Murray’s FOCUS featured author Taylor Pensoneau and myself on April 29th.

Central Illinois author Taylor Pensoneau and I were guests on a program called “FOCUS” that runs every Sunday morning on Springfield, Illinois Radio WTAX hosted by Bob Murray. This was a free-wheeling discussion about writing, publishing, and all of the obstacles and headaches along the way.

Taylor is a well-respected author of biographies of famous (and infamous) Illinois politicians, like Richard Olgivie and Dan Walker. He is perhaps best known for his true-crime story “Brothers Notorious,” a riotous talk of a Jesse James-like family in southern Illinois known as the Shelton Brothers whose murderous exploits made headlines in the St. Louis area for decades.

If you are a fledgling writer, you may enjoy listening to this Focus installment, particularly to what Taylor has to say.

Listen to the Focus Program (4/29/2012) on WTAX

FOCUS Program features author Taylor Pensoneau and myself 4/29/2012

Central Illinois author Taylor Pensoneau and I were guests on a program called “FOCUS” that runs every Sunday morning on Springfield, Illinois Radio WTAX hosted by Bob Murray. This was a free-wheeling discussion about writing, publishing, and all of the obstacles and headaches along the way.

Taylor is a well-respected author of biographies of famous (and infamous) Illinois politicians, like Richard Olgivie and Dan Walker. He is perhaps best known for his true-crime story “Brothers Notorious,” a riotous talk of a Jesse James-like family in southern Illinois known as the Shelton Brothers whose murderous exploits made headlines in the St. Louis area for decades.

If you are a fledgling writer, you may enjoy listening to this Focus installment, particularly to what Taylor has to say.

Listen to the Focus Program (4/29/2012) on WTAX

All Tied Up in Love

Angelo Bronzino - Allegory of the Triumph of Venus. Yale University Press.

How many weddings have we attended where we “oohed” and “aahed” about how beautiful the bride was, how handsome the groom, and heard declarations of love eternal that were blessed by the Divine? Then, all too frequently, we read that this same couple has divorced—sometimes sooner than later, sometimes after years. Oh, not all. Many people who commit to one another do manage to keep it together, but the number of people who don’t should make us wonder whether our expectations and our understanding of what love is might be unrealistic.

And where do we get these ideas about love? How is it that we over-idealize and set ourselves up for disappointment? According to Simon May, author of Love: A History (Yale University Press, 2011), our attitudes and understanding about what love is has been passed down through the millennia by such people as Plato, Augustine, Ovid, Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, and a host of others that we may have never heard of but whose notions nonetheless impact our lives in ways we don’t understand.

But what, you may ask, can these dead philosophers possibly have to say about love that is of any importance to me? The answer is—quite a lot.

May is a professor of philosophy at King’s College, University of London, and he assures us that, yes; philosophy has a lot to say about love. And sex. According to May, love is the search for “ontological rootedness.” That’s a mouthful. But what it means is clearly understood by every newborn infant who ever moves her head towards a mother’s breast. It is the intense and primal need to feel loved; to feel that their existence has another’s to bond with. It is a force that has led to happiness—but also to unbridled lust, murder, wars, and countless unhappy marriages.

The primary template for this need to belong can be traced to Plato, who believed that our loves here were merely entryways to a deeper understanding of eternal love—in fact they are merely a way of finding our way to the eternal through the temporal. We hunger for this beautiful person, but in reality for Beauty itself: a physical attraction can lead me to eternal satisfaction. This idea is further developed in the Old Testament—in fact the love of God for the Hebrews is frequently explained in terms of a romantic love (as in The Song of Solomon). We live in a world that is changing, dangerous, and frightening: we seek security and stability through a relationship with someone who has power to control it all. As such, love and fear sometimes get all mixed up.

Something of this can be seen in the astounding success of a recent novel, Fifty Shades of Gray: Book One of the Fifty Shades Trilogy, by E. L. James (Vintage, 2012), which tells of a woman’s desire to be taken care of by someone who can offer security and affection—even if the price for that is to be tied up and blindfolded now and then. She even comes to enjoy the submission. This has apparently resonated with millions the world over, judging by sales of the book. Why? When we find someone to whom we are willing to submit ourselves, May says, we do so unflinchingly and unquestioningly—just as Abraham did when God, who had promised him the world, asked for the sacrifice of Abraham’s only son. He did not hesitate. Such is the need we have for “ontological rootedness.”

One is reminded of the Baltimore Catechism, which taught us “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, with thy whole soul, with thy whole strength, and with thy whole mind.” That’s a pretty tough thing to ask, but then God is thought of as the source and sustenance of our existence. When you love someone like that, however, you do whatever that love demands.

But what happens when God is removed from the picture, as it has for many in the modern world? When we translate this love to mere humans? Do we experience human love in the same way? Is our love unconditional, eternal, selfless, and everlasting?

The answer, May says, is no. We are not Gods. There is nothing unconditional about human love. After all, we are seeking something from those we love—that sense of “ontological rootedness.” And when you mix sex up in the mix, it gets even more problematic. Yet, we still idealize love, still harboring unrealistic expectations, and thus we are rife for exploitation, disappointment, and unhappiness. This fairy-tale anticipation of “happily ever after” can result in sometimes ill-advised relationships albeit with the highest of ideals.

May traces attitudes towards love—and sex—from their genesis in Greek philosophy and Western religious thought through to the modern world where God, after the Enlightenment, is gradually further removed from the picture. In fact, he posits the notion that love, which at one time was a by-product of a spiritual relationship with the divine, replaces the divine. No longer do we say “God is love,” but rather, “Love is God.”

…the lover becomes the focus of love to such an extent that…the loved one is in danger of dropping out of the picture. At the limit, love falls in love with itself—and so, as the ultimate good, comes to hold the position once occupied by God.

The last part of that question from the Baltimore Catechism also reminds us to love “our neighbor as ourselves.” Our society clearly shows us that sexual ecstasy has replaced religious ecstasy on the altar of our lives, and one’s love is dangerously close to becoming an object, and love much less of a relationship: instead we encounter “f___ buddies.” “The Big ‘O’ has replaced the “Big Guy in the Sky”.

This book raises some troubling questions about our sexual and emotional relationships, even questioning the extent to which we are capable of loving our own children—when our idealized notions demand that such love is “unconditional.” It frequently isn’t.

In reality, it is as with all love: the parent will love those children most who give him the greatest of ontological rootedness—those with whom he feels most grounded and at home; perhaps because they poignantly echo the qualities that, for him, define his life and its origins; perhaps for more mysterious reasons. They might be unreliable, feckless, and a cause for great sadness to him; but he will love them regardless.

This is not a book to be read once. In fact, having finished it, I only realize that I will have to acquire it for my library and read it several times more before I fully comprehend its implications. It is a course in philosophy in its own right—but that shouldn’t put off the average reader. If you ever wondered what philosophy was, or how it can address our lives in a meaningful way, you need to give this a try. It’s not an impossible read and is, ultimately, well worth the time.

Rating (5/5)

Copyright 2012 Isaac Morris

When I Was A Child, I Made Half-Hearted Attempts

One of the joys of reviewing books is encountering writers I have never heard of before. The book I am reviewing here, a collection of essays by Marilynne Robinson titled When I was a Child I Read Books (Farrar, Straus and Giroux; March 13, 2012), is one of those discoveries that will lead me to read more by this remarkable woman.

This is a collection of personal and critical essays that can be read leisurely, but should never be read lightly. Robinson, whose novel Gilead (Picador, 2006) won her a Pulitzer Prize, is an intelligent woman whose articulate use of language is admirable and enviable. She is also a deeply religious person, and her insights reveal her connection to Calvinist thinking that she applies to life as we live it today in ways that are compelling.

The word “essay” tends to send chills up and down the spine of those of us who remember hearing those dreaded words in high school or college: “compose an essay on the subject of….” I later learned that the word “essay” means “an attempt,” and many of my “essays’ were poor “attempts” at best. The challenge of saying something meaningful in a brief and well-organized manner, which is what one attempts to do in an essay, is indeed an effort of the spirit. And if your spirit isn’t in it–and what high school or college kid’s was?–it just isn’t going to work. In time, however, I came to appreciate this vehicle, especially as I began to write for publications. And I also came to appreciate some of the classical essayists, like Sir Francis Bacon, Charles Lamb, and Jonathon Swift. In fact, my favorite is Swift’s “A Modest Proposal,” in which he sets forth a way of dealing with the number of poor children in Ireland. His solution: eat them!

But a book of essays is not standard fare in publishing today, which is why Robinson’s book is such a unusual treat. This collection contains ten essays, ranging in subject matter from freedom of thought to the origins of American liberalism (which she traces to Moses). Of course, the eponymous essay is the one that caught my attention, since Robinson is a near-contemporary (she is only 2 years older) and since I, too, could say the same thing. Reading began for her, and for me, as a treasured practice and memory of childhood.

Among the issues she raises is the current vacuousness of public life, and the brevity of historical memory, which seems to characterize our educational system and our public discourse.

I have spent most of my life studying American history and literature…. The magnanimity of its greatest laws and institutions as well as its finest poetry and philosophy move me deeply…. But the language of public life has lost the character of generosity, and the largeness of spirit that has created and supported the best of our institutions and brought reform to the worst of them has been erased out of historical memory.

Such observations coming from a woman her age might be dismissed as sour grapes, as a humorous sort of “When I was a kid, I walked 5 miles a day to school, uphill both ways” sort of screed. But her observations about life in America today resound with truth. If anyone wants to listen. This is especialy true in her observations about fiction, or what passes for fiction in this day and age (as a writer, I perked up at this!). She writes, “We inhabit…a reality for which explanation is much too poor and small.” The experiences we have in life from what we perceived, believe or assume, are what we must somehow place into a narrative that causes them all to flow together with an enhanced self-awareness. “I suspect,” she adds, “this self-awarenes is what people used to call the soul.”

Here her religious take on life becomes clear:

“So the soul, the masterpiece of creation, is more or less reduced to a token signifying cosmic acceptance or rejection, having little or nothing to do with that miraculous thing, the felt experience of life, except insofar as life offers distractions or temptations.”

Reading Ms. Robinson should make us aware of how our perceptions of life, and of ourselves, have changed—in some ways for the worst—through the years.

Robinson writes from the perspective of a Christian believer—she was raised Presbyterian and is now a member of the Congregational Church (United Church of Christ), but readers with little or no religious belief will find her observations about freedom, American attitudes, and human aspirations enlightening on many levels. Her religious focus gives a depth to her secular observations, a depth that is often lacking in many commentators on modern life.

This is a great book to read in those quiet moments. You can read an essay at a time, and you can pick and choose from among them. She is a master craftsman with words, and this book has inspired me to pick up one of her novels, which I hope to read soon. I can’t help thinking she might have that same effect on anyone who reads this collection of her thoughts.

Rating (4/5)

“The Inquisition. Let’s begin.”

… if we are not free in our conscience and our practice of religion, all other freedoms are fragile.

–A Statement on Religious Liberty – United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (April 2012)

The U S Council of Catholic Bishops just last week released its highly anticipated statement titled “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty” in response to what many have characterized as an attack on religious liberty by the Obama administration. I must agree, in principle, with the characterization of the Obama administration’s proposals. However, on another level, I find some of the statement’s language a bit troubling given the checkered history of the church on the very issue of religious liberty. Martin Luther and a host of others would point out that history tells a very different story.

That inconvenient story is the subject of Cullen Murphy’s book God’s Jury : The Inquisition and the Making of the Modern World (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; None edition (January 17, 2012).

Today, the Inquisition is the butt of jokes. Who can’t recall the famous Monty Python skit (“Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!”), or the Mel Brooks take off in “History of the World Part I” (“The Inquisition, let’s begin. The Inquisition, look out sin.”). Time has a way of softening our view of things, but there was nothing in the least funny about the Inquisition.

Author Cullen Murphy makes a good case in arguing that the Inquisition heralded a new and lasting bureaucratic approach to repression by government: in fact, it provided the “template” for such bureaucracies, from those of the French Revolution to those of the KGB and the CIA. The template, he points out, is still at work in places like Guantanamo where “enhanced interrogation” is permitted. The Inquisition used “enhanced interrogation” too; only it had another name for it: torture. Of course, you would expect the Church to be honest.

Note: Speaking of “other names;” the Inquisition has changed its name twice in the twentieth century (as I shall explain). To avoid confusion, I shall refer to it merely as “The Holy Office.”

I can appreciate the scholarship in Murphy’s book, because I did my Master’s thesis at Butler / Christian Theological Seminary on the philosophy underlying the Spanish Inquisition. I defended it: with a straight face no less. Got an A. And many of the same sources I used—particularly Henry Charles Lea—are referenced to in this book.

But Murphy goes a lot further. He traces the history of the institution through its three phases: the French inquisition, which started it all, which was waged against the Cathars in northern France; the Spanish Inquisition, which became an arm of the government to Ferdinand and Isabella to clean Jews and Moors out of Spain (and confiscate their property in the process); and the Roman Inquisition, launched later to fight the blight of Protestantism.

Here’s a great joke that Murphy tells, though I paraphrase it:  What’s the difference between a Dominican and a Jesuit? The Dominicans were assigned the task of dealing with Cathars. The Jesuits were assigned to put a stop to the Protestants. Have you ever seen a Cathar?

Murphy has spoken with famous victims like Hans Küng, who was banned from teaching by the Holy Office for his writings, and with priests who are charged with maintaining the archives of the Holy Office in Rome. Many of the records of the Holy Office have recently been made public (which was not the case when I penned my thesis in 1972). Not all, of course.

In Murphy’s history of the Inquisition some famous names come under scrutiny. Of the inquisitors, the most famous was the Spanish Inquisition’s Tomas Torquemada—played so memorably by Mel Brooks in his “History of the World Part I “(“You can’t Torquemada anything!”) Of the Holy Office’s victims, there was of course Galileo who contravened scripture with observations that corroborated Copernicus’ strange notion that the earth revolved around the sun—as opposed to the other way around. Galileo escaped one brush with the Holy Office, only to screw up later and spend the last years of his life under house arrest. To the papacy’s credit, the Church did finally apologize: in 1992. Of course, that was much to late for Galileo to be allowed out of his house. But the Church doesn’t mark time the same way most of us do, apparently.

Other names muddied by the Holy Office include the famous theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a paleontologist who found it hard to brook the idea of one pair of parents. He survived by swallowing his pride, although his writings—including The Phenomenon of Man, in my opinion one of the greatest works of theology to come out of the twentieth century—were anathema. Thank goodness for the printing press (the one thing that probably did more to weaken the stranglehold of the Inquisition).

Of course the Inquisition no longer exists. Well, almost. In 1904, the name was changed to “The Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office.” Then, in 1965 it became “The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF)”—which was for years headed up by Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI (who was nicknamed by his peers “the grand inquisitor”). As Shakespeare said, “a rose by any other name….” The Holy Office still holds sway over Catholic institutions of higher education, and will periodically ban someone from teaching theology if their ‘thinking’ does not mesh with Church doctrine. Of course, no one is burned at the stake these days, and books are no longer burned. But reputations and careers can still go up in flames. Apparently, the Church never warmed to Apple’s famous advertising slogan– “Think Different.” Even today thinking “different” can get you into trouble if you are subject to Rome.

I might also point out that in the recent Catholic Bishops’s statement on religious liberty, they refer to “religious liberty” as religious liberty “properly understood.” Ay, there’s the rub. Guess Galileo and the Cathars didn’t understand it “properly.”

This is a very readable book about an important aspect of history. It is not an anti-Catholic screed (Murphy is a Catholic, although I can’t but wonder whether his book is being discussed in the Vatican even as I write). It is rather a sobering look at the history of an institution that—like many other institutions since—was so certain of “Their Truth” that they could brook no other. Adherents of the Right, and of the Left, in modern-day America are becoming more and more this way and to such an extent that I worry for our future if either side gets an unbalanced upper hand.

The Inquisition was the first modern bureaucracy, one which—to use Murphy’s phrase—set the template for all bureaucracies to follow, from Hitler’s to that of the post-9/11 anti-terrorist policies of the Bush Administration. The middle ages had their dungeons; we have Guantanamo. The Catholic Church—which could never kill people directly—simply passed the responsibility on to the civil government to do the dirty work. We farm out prisoners to foreign countries to do our “enhanced interrogations.” Some good ideas never go away.

I can’t but think that after reading God’s Jury, you might find yourself in agreement with William Faulkner when he said, “The past is not dead. In fact, it’s not even past.”

Rating (3/5)

Copyright Isaac Morris 2012

Review: Professor Hardiman’s “Godot” makes waiting worthwhile

Photo by Mark Hardiman

On Saturday evening (April 14) I saw the Lincoln Land Community College Theatre Department’s production of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot at Theatre in the Park, New Salem. I don’t normally review plays, but Godot is a work that you need to see and also read if you are to get the most out of it.

I must confess that I am biased here, since I have been an adjunct at Lincoln Land for 30 years; however, I am genuinely excited about what Lincoln Land is doing under the guidance of Assistant Professor Mark Hardiman. Local productions directed by Hardiman include Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit.

Hardiman’s latest selection is a tough play to work with for any number of reasons. Samuel Beckett is one of those writers / playwrights whose meanings are sometimes hidden and whose interpretations can be as varied as the people in the audience. The play, first produced in the 1950s, is billed as “existential.” This, as everybody knows, means “over my head.” Some refer to the play as “intellectual.” This, of course, means ‘boring.’

In truth however, it is not over anybody’s heads nor is it boring. Yes, there are many religious and philosophical allusions, but you will catch more of them than you might think and you can worry about the others later (or not). The immediate experience of Godot, if you give it a chance, will touch your heart as much as your head. The thoughts and emotions you experience may be more familiar than you ever thought possible (or ever want to admit).

The setting is very simple: a country road with a tree. Two characters appear who bring to mind hoboes—or in any event people whose lives are on a downward spiral. They meet beneath a tree to keep a promised appointment with someone named Godot. Their names are Vladimir –“Didi”—and Estragon – “Gogo”. They aren’t quite sure, however, whether they are in the right place or whether they even have the right day and time. Nothing in their lives is certain. But they wait. And while they wait they try to find ways to pass the time.

Two others later join them: one, a baronial and nearly insufferable man named Pozzo who is full of himself and who torments his slave, “Lucky.” The clearly mis-named Lucky carries Pozzo’s bags, is frequently subject to abuse, and is always at his master’s beck and call. While the master eats chicken, Lucky gets the bones. This strange encounter leaves Didi and Gogo wondering who, or what, they have just experienced. It may leave the audience wondering the same thing, especially as Didi and Gogo begin to identify with the two characters.

In two acts (each act lasting approximately one hour) we watch Didi and Gogo struggle with issues of incontinence, doubt, fallible memory, bad dreams, and personal clashes as they wait—only to face disappointment when the mysterious Godot fails to materialize. They contemplate suicide. But, in the end, they remain together to wait another day.

There is slapstick and there are pratfalls—this is a very physical comedy reminiscent of some of the finest burlesque routines that inspired it. One observer Saturday evening likened Didi and Gogo to Laurel and Hardy. Not a bad analogy. But all is not funny in this play. Hardiman coached his actors in some seemingly brutal scenes that are carried off with shocking realism (in addition to being an acting teacher, Hardiman is a fight choreographer).

The performances by the young cast members are amazing, given the odd nature of the script and its physical demands. Andrew James O’Shea is truly insufferable as Pozzo, the wealthy landowner with a briar and a whip who is used to getting his way. Lucky, played by a near spectral Cody Cochran, manages to recite one of the longest and most convoluted soliloquies ever written when he is ordered to “think” for the entertainment of them all. This is truly one of the most bizarre scenes ever to be written for the stage. Cochran deserves a Golden Globe for making it through it. Warning: don’t try to make sense of this soliloquy. Just endure it.

The standout performances belong to Didi and Gogo. Wesley Tilford’s “Didi” experiences problems with incontinence, but provides a dryer grounding for the more vulnerable Gogo. On Saturday, Tilford spoke a bit too softly at times in the first act and a few great lines were tossed (although, in fairness, even with microphones the acoustics are a bit of a problem depending on where an actor is standing). But he projected more strongly in the second act and it made all the difference. In the last scene, his frustration and anger explode as he realizes that he has once again waited for an appointment that will not be kept. It is a powerful moment that makes you sit up and pay attention. There is fire in him.

Perhaps the most endearing performance was that of Trent Rossi, whose Gogo projects a John Goodman quality. His expressions at times scream for someone, anyone, to hug him, and more than once he plucks your heartstrings. Yet, he can go from dejected to angry on very short notice, as he does when a messenger (played softly by 13-year old Devon Swafford) comes to tell the two that Godot can’t make it after they had waited the whole evening. Rossi is a talented young man who seems to lose himself in his portrayal (which can’t be easy to do, considering the nature of his character).

Professor Hardiman explains one of the more important aspects of Godot in his playbill notes. “Beckett parades metaphors past us like a lugubrious carnival parade,” he writes. “Each is passing in its significance and unsatisfying. What is lasting is…a bond between man and man which leads us on.”

This bond is evident between Didi and Gogo, even at times when they wonder if they wouldn’t be better off if they parted. On two occasions, Gogo—exhausted by his maltreatment and the awful reality of his life—falls to sleep. Didi takes off his coat, covers him up, and gently rubs Gogo’s shoulders. Then, without his coat, Didi shivers and hugs himself to stave off the chill of the evening.

You don’t need to be a PhD to appreciate the essential humanity in this. It is truly touching.

If you like the play, then pick up a copy of the play and read it. You pick up things that way that you might not catch otherwise. For example, the word “to-morrow” is hyphenated, just as it is in Macbeth’s famous soliloquy (“To-morrow and to-morrow and to-morrow creeps in this petty pace from day to day to the last syllable of recorded time.”) where the bard expresses a tedium not unlike that experienced by Didi and Gogo as they wait…and wait…and wait.

I admire what Mark Hardiman was able to pull off here with a very difficult (and frequently unappreciated) vehicle, and I look forward to many more fine productions and performances. His vision is to make theatre the heart of the community—a vision I wholeheartedly endorse.

This production will continue next weekend with performances on April 20 (Friday) and 21 (Saturday) at 8 PM at the theater at New Salem.

Rating (4/5)

Copyright Isaac Morris 2012