Godot Comes to Sarajevo

“Nothing to be done.”
Nista ne moze da se uradi.”
—opening line of Waiting for Godot


I went to Sarajevo in mid-July to stage a production of Waiting for Godot not so much because I’d always wanted to direct Beckett’s play (although I had), as because it gave me a practical reason to return to Sarajevo and stay for a month or more. I had spent two weeks there in April, and had come to care intensely about the battered city and what it stands for; some of its citizens had become friends. But I couldn’t again be just a witness: that is, meet and visit, tremble with fear, feel brave, feel depressed, have heart-breaking conversations, grow ever more indignant, lose weight. If I went back, it would be to pitch in and do something.

No longer can a writer consider that the imperative task is to bring the news to the outside world. The news is out. Plenty of excellent foreign journalists (most of them in favor of intervention, as am I) have been reporting the lies and the slaughter since the beginning of the siege, while the decision of the western European powers and the United States not to intervene remains firm, thereby giving the victory to Serb fascism. I was not under the illusion that going to Sarajevo to direct a play would make me useful in the way I could be if I were a doctor or a water systems engineer. It would be a small contribution. But it was the only one of the three things I do—write, make films, and direct in the theater—which yields something that would exist only in Sarajevo, that would be made and consumed there.

Among the people I’d met in April was a young Sarajevo-born theater director, Haris Pasovic, who had left the city after he finished school and made his considerable reputation working mainly in Serbia. When the Serbs started the war in April 1992, Pasovic went abroad, but in the fall, while working on a spectacle called Sarajevo in Antwerp, he decided that he could no longer remain in safe exile, and at the end of the year managed to crawl back past UN patrols and under Serb gunfire into the freezing, besieged city. Pasovic invited me to see his Grad (“City”)—a collage, with music, of declamations, partly drawn from texts by Constantine Cavafy, Zbigniew Herbert, and Sylvia Plath, using a dozen actors—which he had put together in eight days. Now he was preparing a far more ambitious production, Euripides’ Alcestis, after which one of his students (Pasovic teaches at the still-functioning Academy of Drama) would be directing Sophocles’ Ajax. Realizing suddenly that I was talking to a producer as well as to a director, I asked Pasovic if he would be interested in my coming back in a few months to direct a play.

“Of course,” he said.

Before I could add, “Then let me think for a while about what I might…

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