David Bukhrikidze*



Goga et Goderdzi dans l’attente de Godot, ou un spectateur du théâtre moderne

Qui est le spectateur de théâtre type en Géorgie aujourd’hui ? Dans cet exposé, David Bukhrikidze imagine deux Géorgiens d’inspiration beckettienne – Goga et Goderdzi –, pour montrer comment leurs situations différentes dans la Géorgie postsoviétique suscite des attitudes très tranchées à l’égard du théâtre, de la culture et de la société, ainsi que des attentes et des exigences contrastées quant à une soirée au théâtre.

I apologize to the readers that the names in the title of the lecture belong only to men. This is not a sign of misogyny or an attempt at deliberate violation of gender balance. Simply, these Georgian names are best rhymed with Godot. If you wish, you may consider them as an alliteration of the most invisible and mystical character of the play by Beckett – Godot. I also remind you, that only men are the characters of the Waiting for Godot.

Well, who are these real-mystical Goga and Goderdzi?[1] Only gleams made of shadows of Estragon and Vladimir, or Pozzo and Lucky? This may not be so, Goga and Goderdzi bear little resemblance to the characters and they are a part of the real theatrical public.

From where did they come and what do they want from a theatre?

Well, Mr. Goga, 29, is a young man with fundamental education in the spheres of business and economics. He is very promising and more creative (as they say today). He works in a bank, likes new cars, he drives an expensive, but small new Peugeot. It goes without saying that he likes watching TV rather than reading literature; he reads only annual bank or economic catalogues, various glamour journals and sometimes local yellow press. He has a wife and beloved little son.

Goga goes to the theatre several times a month. More precisely, he often has to go to the theatre; maybe, because his attractive wife has many friends – actors and directors – in theatrical circles. Therefore, a theatre in Goga’s perception is associated with something lightly pleasant, and with entertaining and scatter-brained productions which are like entertaining TV shows. We must recognize that he never liked theatre. In Goga’s memory, theatre is associated only with performances seen in childhood and with season tickets he was forced to buy. Mainly, he is attracted by musical tear-jerkers, action plays (if such exist) and shows with a “veil” of drug and criminal activity.

More than once, together with classmates he attended the “hit” of the nineties, staged by Sturua in Rustaveli Theatre – What If the Wet Lilac Is Wet? A little later, he discovered a new star pair – Zaza Papuashvili and Nino Kasradze – in Macbeth. He kept in mind that on the stage, full of ruins and tyres, everything made gloomy and terrible impression. Even a giant chandelier, specially packed in dirty polythene, on the background of Britain’s anthem and Macbeth, Banquo and Macduff dressed in khaki, conveyed the mood of misfortune. He intuitively understood that the story of Macbeth’s promotion to eminence and his fall resembled stories of “bad guys” from “Mkhedrioni”[2] and of diligent criminals. Today all this seems to Goga to be remnants of a dark and obsolete time, which he has deliberately forgotten. Perhaps, he does not want to remember them, because everybody has the right to correct mistakes in their biography.

Long after these events, one beautiful evening, Goga and his wife are in a hurry to get to a premiere. They are on a well illuminated and calm Tbilisi street. They are dressed in Lezard, Gucci or Cardin clothes and look as if they are going, not to a performance, but to a fashion show. However, the production does not satisfy their hopes. It is not light and entertaining; it is not a musical, it does not amuse the public with dances or cheap anecdotes, and is not characterised by light eroticism. Without all this, the theatre seems to Goga and his wife like a bother, an academic “performance”. The performance soon bored them, and after the first act, they returned home, where they entertained themselves playing with their child, or rather watching TV shows.

Clearly, Goga does not know that, beyond life at the bank, there are newspapers and journals, which write special reviews on such shows. As a rule, not many people read them and nobody is interested in them. Moreover, a spectator is not guided by the reviews, whether to go on a premiere or not. Everybody goes to the theatre with his or her own and concrete goal; one attends the theatre in order to demonstrate his/her clothes or beauty; another, is following the advice of acquaintances or friends, whom they meet at the theatre; yet another is there to “check out” the social elite; whilst a further theatre-goer actually wants to understand from the production the essence of Shakespeare’s, Chekhov’s or Lasha Bughadze’s plays. Though there is an exception that proves the rule, this is the second character of our small story.

His name is Goderdzi, 56. During years he worked as diligent, honest and ordinary talented engineer; two years ago, he was dismissed, therefore he is often in depression. His wife is a teacher; they have two children and three grandchildren. When Mr. Goderdzi has a possibility, he goes to the theatre together with his daughter (because neither his wife nor his son are interested in theatre). More often, he likes to go to the theatre alone, because, then, he does not need to hide his feelings. With his grandchildren he is more self-controlled. He returns home after almost each performance disillusioned or slightly offended.

Mr. Goderdzi does not understand (because he is not a specialist in drama studies or a critic), what has happened with Rustaveli Theatre, Marjanishvili Theatre or the Cinema Actors Theatre, which once used to be extremely popular. Why has the number of professionally ordered performances catastrophically decreased? Where has the dramatic temperament of Georgian actors, once praiseworthy, disappeared to? Why has ordinary talk on the stage been replaced with a cry? Why have so much noise and such loud music become necessary in all performances? Why is it that so-called political plays or plays rich in metaphor, which were once so prominent, become of such little importance now? Why is it that the theatre’s “stars” are not in the auditorium?

Before answering these existential, theatrical questions, Mr. Goderdzi more frequently thinks about his own misfortune and fate. For 15 years, he has not been anywhere. The spectacle “Ivanov”, with the participation of Smoktunovsky, seen in eighties in the Moscow Art Theatre, remains in his memory as a dream. Now he goes to the theatre in a “second-hand” tweed suit and old Czech shoes, because he has bought nothing for himself for about 10 years. He almost never attends a premiere, because, first, tickets are expensive and, second, dressed like this, he avoids meeting somebody familiar. Briefly, he is a complex man, charged with some tormenting reflections and overburdened with complexes, but he likes theatre a lot. 20 to 30 years ago, when Georgian theatre was almost mythically renowned, Goderdzi – an engineer by profession, but a theatre-lover at heart – did not miss a single premiere, either in Tbilisi, or – even, believe it or not – in Telavi!

For example, he remembers the premiere of “Richard III” in Rustaveli Theatre, as well as Rezo Inanishvili’s “Voices of my river and forested bank” in Telavi; in order to see the spectacle he went from Tbilisi to Telavi by bus.

He always used to read many books, naturally about theatre as well. About the sensational tour of Rustaveli Theatre to the famous London “Round House” in winter 1981, he watched on Central Television, in the cultural edition of the program “Vremia”. He clearly remembers what pride gripped him and, then, how difficult it was to get tickets for this performance! The actors performed miracles in the play; what associations were raised by Ramaz Chkhikvadze’s Richard (who was reminiscent of Avto Makharadze’s Edward), why during almost the entire show he could not recognize the actress Marine Tbileli due to her make-up and extraordinary sense of rhythm.

He remembers how he went together with the whole family to “Kvarkvare” and how he returned home alone, because he remained behind them on the way. He also remembers the performance of “Madame Sans Gêne” in the late seventies in Marjanishvili Theatre; which, at first glance, was unremarkable, but Victorien Sardou’s mediocre play about an ordinary woman of the Napoleonic epoch, who became an aristocrat, was illuminated by Sofiko Chiaureli’s brilliant performance. He can better remember the Children’s Theatre in the eighties and the world of Kldiashvili by Shalva Gatserelia. He also remembers, in autumn 1987, in the renewed and renovated Rustaveli Theatre, that he saw the terrifying “King Lear” by Sturua, under the ruins of which everybody perisheded, except for the old, mad king (Ramaz Chkhikvadze). The performance was a prediction of collapse and mourning over the Soviet Union.

Later he saw these fateful or prophetic ruins materialized in the town, alienated from him, insane, and destroyed, where nobody listened to conciliatory voices of people like him. On the one hand, unexplained political madness, a strange desire for total destruction, the depressing background of the country, and on the other hand, the “depressing theatre” of the nineties, with frequent blackouts and frozen halls, which, for some reason, reminded him of the phrase by Hastings from “Richard III”; “We know each other’s faces, / But for our hearts, he knows no more of mine, / Than I of yours”. Later these faces transformed from cruel ghosts into acting millionaires, and courtiers, “obedient members of the Komsomol” – firstly, into thoroughgoing and, then, into submissive and satiated bureaucrats of the new revolution.

Of course, the problem of spectators neither begins nor ends with our heroes. Between the worlds of Goga and Goderdzi, or the alpha and omega of the theatre public, there is a whole ocean of perceptions; beginning with cultural cliché and underlying themes of the destroyed post-Soviet space, and ending with simple and roughly direct theatre language, which we have not assimilated yet.

The public, who used to know the language of prohibitions and parables of the passed away Soviet theatre, and who had a different taste, along with the variability of time, is obviously undergoing transformation. Actually, many things are striking, for example…

First, today’s theatre is too simplified and, therefore, spectators’ perceptions have become simpler as well. In our language, Goga wants something new, a light and entertaining show and not a drama, overburdened with metaphors and reflections (the kind Mr. Goderdzi likes, for example). Because reading meaning between the lines and allusions are no longer necessary, obvious simplicity wins out.

Second, for almost everybody, time has become expensive and precious. It has been reduced for everybody. Based on that, a new puzzle arises for the theatre; how to compress the three-act play by Shakespeare or an antique drama into an hour and a half (because, as sociological researches have shown, the modern spectator cannot endure a longer performance). However, for Goga even an hour is a torture; yet Mr. Goderdzi is ready to endure firmly and resignedly a challenge of a classic director or a young creator and, indeed, a many-hour opus.

Thirdly, the language of modern playwrights has influenced Georgian theatres. They use a differing and more laconic form and evidently ironic language. Characters of a play begin to speak using shorter and neater phrases. Consequently, producers stage short plays. Clearly, this will create comfort for Goga. He does not read modern plays at all, and he takes no interest in the puzzles of playwrights. Mr. Goderdzi is accustomed more to scale and pathos and the simplification of characters’ language says nothing to him. More precisely, Georgian theatre seems to him to have become reduced and impoverished.

Four, under the huge influence of TV and mass media, the theatres begin to imitate TV and not vice versa. Theatre actors rather dream to become TV stars. Producers try to make their performances like TV shows or musicals, in that way attracting public to theatres. It is just such performances that enchant Goga, and, on the contrary, make Mr. Goderdzi feel tired and irritated.

Fifthly, theatres are liberated from any censorship. Nobody harms or fights them. Ideological and thematic prohibitions have been relieved and this ended with the second extreme; theatres’ repertoire is almost full of gibberish texts and absurdist forms, or low-quality performances. Ephemeral and one-month plays have become the predominant tradition. Goga knows little about them, and Mr. Goderdzi has no desire to go to such performances, he thinks that this is the sign of degradation of the theatre, taking it to its nadir.

Fate has made the courses of life of our characters, Goga and Goderdzi, who intersected only once. It was not long before the revolution, in 2002, when they both attended the play “Waiting for Godot”, staged by Robert Sturua. They were sitting in the first row and certainly did not recognize one another. Going to this performance had been proposed to Goga by his girlfriend (now his wife), who had agreed to listen to Beckett’s absurdity out of respect for her lover. And Mr. Goderdzi made a mistake and went to the theatre alone. After the beginning of the performance, he heard the endless questions of the noisy girl; who is this Godot after all? Will he come to meet Pozzo and Lucky? Will he come at all?

Certainly, Goderdzi knew that Godot was not going to come, and that, in the play, this waiting is the main and significant thing. Goga knew nothing about him and until the end, he sincerely believed Godot to be someone important, a mystical person, a functionary, or may be somebody’s beloved…

Therefore, the public’s expectations are not always uniform. At the theatre, Goga and Goderdzi invent their own Godot, or the story of their own life!


[1] Goga, Goderdzi – Georgian male names
[2] The Mkhedrioni (or “Knights”) were an ultra-nationalist, Georgian paramilitary group outlawed in 1995.


*David Bukhrikidze is a cultural journalist in Georgia; his primary interest is in theatre. He writes for the with weekly magazine Liberali and the monthly publication Tskheli Shokoladi.

Copyright © 2011 David Bukhrikidze
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Goga and Goderdzi Waiting for Godot, or a Spectator of the Modern Theatre