One of the few things more baffling than a Beckett play is a Beckett play in Arabic. Baffling, yes, but beautiful, as a troupe of actors from the Freedom Theatre of the Jenin refugee camp in Israel’s West Bank proved on Tuesday, Oct. 18. The group performed an Arabic rendition of “Waiting for Godot” entitled “While Waiting” at the Miller Theatre. Udi Aloni, an Israeli filmmaker, author and advocate for a binational solution to the territorial conflict, directed the play.
With less than reliable subtitles marching overhead, the young actors took over the stage, making Beckett’s words their own. The play’s main characters, Vladimir and Estragon, here “Didi” and “Gogo,” were boldly and humorously played by Maryam abu Khaled and Batool Taleb—two young women. Of this gender-bending casting choice, director Udi Aloni explained, “Things change, and we Jews who do Talmud change the whole Bible by the way we interpret things. … So I think we can do that with Beckett.”
And that he did, replacing Estragon’s boots with a pair of red kitten heals and a willow tree with a metal ladder. The wardrobe choices were vibrant, brightening the mood of the show while making clowns of its main characters.
The show featured two Luckys, Pozzo’s slaves, of which there is only one in the original. Aloni explained that this was because he required multiple actors for each role as he never knew when the Israeli or Palestinian police might arrest and detain one of his actors. Rami Awni Hwayel, the actor who played Pozzo, was, in fact, imprisoned up until five days prior to the premiere.
Spoken by Palestinian refugees, the familiar but abstract words took on a new meaning even amidst the play’s message of meaninglessness. Commenting on the play’s relevance, Abu Khaled said, “We are waiting for something. We are waiting for our future.”
“Waiting for freedom,” her costar Taleb added. Aloni connected with the work differently, explaining that it is “a play about meaninglessness, but inside you find a beautiful fidelity, friendship.”
Juliano Mer-Khamis, a controversial Israeli Palestinian activist, was murdered in front of the Freedom Theatre, the project he founded, on April 4, 2011. Following the loss of their mentor and leader, the students and Aloni retreated to Ramallah to conclude their studies and cope with their grief away from the site of the tragedy. There, they chose to perform “Waiting for Godot.” “While Waiting” is a memorial, a political statement, a reinvention, and a piece of art.