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Waiting on The Road Home

October 16, 2012

I can’t go on like this.
That’s what you think.

I thought it was my house. A left-side double with a carport on the right attached to the next door neighbor’s single-level ranch. My stomach knotted convulsively. The panic bands tightened around my chest. A wave of Permanent Traumatic Stress Disorder, the tension of being transported into a scene I didn’t quite remember, being among the hundreds turned away every night from the Gentilly production of Waiting for Godot in 2007 but I knew the play, knew the text, knew the essential and painful rightness of it like a necessary amputation. I had only been there in spirit but had gone home the last night and after dispirited drinks at the Circle Bar I wrote in the small hours of the morning my reaction to a play I had just not seen.

That could be my house.

I didn’t see the double next door in the first sequence, only the characters, the tree, the house behind them. I saw the carport in the second sequence and that confirmed my suspicion if only for a a moment.

I think that’s my f—ing house.

I went off to Google Maps and did a virtual drive through my old neighborhood, looking for a double with a carport next door, to see if there were any others. Sam Jasper texted me back that Dave Walker had placed the scene on Warrington Drive, two blocks over and then I remember that’s where it was. Still, I had lived in that place, in one of those houses, back in the late 1970s and early 1980s. I rewound HBO GO and watched the scene over and over until the gnawing thing, the one that sends me down Paris Avenue past the new Holy Cross School that stands where the church my father built once stood, the one that pauses at the City Park exit to gaze at the now almost invisible watermarks on the Pontchartrain Expressway columns like an infernal river gauge, until that thing was quieted. I saw the double next door. I came out of myself and went back to the scene.


The lines chosen were perfect for Toni Burnette, the final lines in which the characters summarize their plight. “Perhaps it were better if we parted.” The cathartic shot of Toni fingering her ring-less left finger. Her tears.

I can’t go on like this.
That’s what you think.
If we parted? That might be better for us.
We’ll hang ourselves tomorrow. (Pause.) Unless Godot comes.

Her exchange with her seat neighbor:

“Motherfucker ain’t comin’.”
“Excuse me?”
“The man. He ain’t comin’.”

Godot in 2007 was a cathartic moment, and not just for Toni Burnette.

I wanted one of the signs advertising the 2007 performance of Waiting for Godot in New Orleans with the play’s simple stage directions so badly, but they had been placed by someone with a ladder and by the time I returned with a borrowed one strapped to the roof of my car, they were all gone. The existential nakedness of it, the sense of abandonment by God and man, the insistence of Vladimir and Estragon, of life resonated so deeply with anyone in New Orleans in 2007 even vaguely familiar with the text.

How then to explain all the others milling about on Robert E. Lee Boulevard in their hundreds, denied admission. Beckett is difficult, Einstein’s physics to Broadway’s Dick And Jane Sing and Dance. How many of the people milling about with us knew the text? How to explain the presence of the man sitting next to Toni, who clearly is hearing the words for the first time? ” Motherfucker ain’t comin’.” “Excuse me?” “The man. He ain’t comin’.”

Waiting. Everyone in New Orleans was waiting: for Road Home, for family in Dallas, for the contractor to come back, for cranes in the sky, for pigs with wings to shit hundred dollar bills over the bus stop where they waited if their bus was back and running. “The man. He ain’t comin.”

There were critical moments in the story of postdiluvian New Orleans the writers of Treme could not possibly avoid–that first second line under the Claiborne overpass, Carnival 2006, Dinerral and Helen and the march that followed–and others every viewer of Treme who knows the history devoutly wishes for but will never appear in an abbreviated fourth season: the Superbowl, the oil spill. The Classical Theater of Harlem’s production of Waiting for Godot, one weekend in the Ninth Ward, one weekend in Lakefront Gentilly, was almost certainly on a longer B-list of possibilities. Was it Wendell Pierce, who played Vladimir, who proposed it? One of the local writers who perhaps attended or at least knew of it and knew the text well enough to say: this must go in? Was it something they read on a blog? (Fat chance, but it’s nice to think so.) It doesn’t matter. It had to be in the story. It was a few minutes out of an hour that unlocked an opportunity to get deep inside the minds of the people of New Orleans in 2007 by way of Beckett. If even one viewer sees or reads the play because of it, their understanding of the situation of 2007 will be profoundly expanded.

Thank you Wendell or Tom or Lolis or David or Eric or whomever we have to thank for making sure this didn’t end up a stroked-out idea on a writing room white board, or a reel of film discarded into storage.

  1. dexterjohnson permalink
    October 16, 2012 11:59 pm

    This post is a very necessary complement to the last episode. Thanks.

  2. October 17, 2012 6:50 am

    Now with proofreading at the same low price! Dropped some words that were there in the first paragraph somehow and I didn’t notice until this morning.

  3. doctorj2u permalink
    October 17, 2012 7:20 pm

    You write of the moment that touched into my painful memories of Katrina again. “Waiting for Godot”. I read somewhere, I think a Wendall Pierce twitter post, that “art” arrived in New Orleans before any government, local or beyond. It is so true. This production was the first time my heart could fly post-K. It spoke to my soul. It told our story. That is all I ever wanted, is for our story to be known and told. I remember searching out Paul Chan on the internet to thank him. I don’t know if he ever received it, but I sent him my heartfelt love for his project. I think that is why I am so attached to this blog and “Treme”. It tells our story.

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