Thursday, July 25, 2013

Thought-provoking, farce-infused WAITING FOR GODOT

Having endured the great depression, the rise of Fascism and Imperialism, the Holocaust, the dropping of the atomic bomb, and the physical destruction of much of Europe and Asia, following World War II the people of the earth were in psychological chaos.   Since the arts represent the era from which they come, it was only natural that new forms of theatre were developed to mirror the state the inhabitants.

The Theatre of the Absurd, a reflection of existentialism, which asks, “Why do we exist,?” is showcased in the works of Edward Albee and Samuel Becket.  Their plays look at creating meaning out of chaos.  Their works don’t give answers, they ask questions.  Albee used high level drama (think, WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF), while Beckett, a lover of slapstick comedy (think the Marx Brothers, Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton), wrote in the farce format.  He looked at an existence of things that were not only out of kilter, but were ridiculous.

WAITING FOR GODOT, which was recently ranked as number 8 by Daniel Burt in his book, THE DRAMA 100:  A RANKING OF THE GREATEST PLAYS OF ALL TIME, is Beckett’s classic.

The play finds two unkempt men, shabbily dressed in a desolate setting…a white swash of land in the midst of space, a rock, a tree, and a suspended mechanical moon-like sphere.  They are waiting for Godot.  They wait, they talk, they wait, they sleep, they search for ideas, they forget, they meet two strangers, they wait, they are told by a young boy that they will have to continue to wait as Godot will come tomorrow, and then another tomorrow.  They leave and return to only wait some more.

A succinct early review of the play stated that this was a production in which nothing happens--twice.  Yes, not much seems to happen in the first act, and the same futility is present in the second act.   Nothing happens?  Not true.  While there is limited action, the audience is involved in a continuous game of mindful questions.

Who are these men?  Where are they?  Why are they waiting?  Who is Godot?  Why are they emotionally bound to each other?  Why, as one states, “Is nothing certain?”  Why is there such discomfort in silence?  Why do they even exist?  And, most importantly, how does this reflect and exemplify each of us and our lives?  What are we each waiting for? Is each of our lives a search for meaning and purpose?

The Stratford Festival’s GODOT has many strong high-points, but opens itself to questions.  Major among the issues is why did director Jennifer Taver conceive a production in which the first act is bland, while the second act explodes with farce and meaningful action?  Did she create a play which develops Beckett’s intents and purposes? 

On the positive side, The show is well paced, the shticks and gimmicks that are inserted work, and the characterizations generally effective.

Stephen Ouimette is excellent as Estragon.  He nicely textures his lines, well develops the farcical aspects, while maintaining a realness in his characterization.  Tom Rooney is not as successful as Vladimir.  There are times when Rooney seems to divorce himself from the stage and feigns rather than lives the role, saying words rather than ideas with meaning.  

Brian Dennehy effectively underplays Pozza in the first act, while adding a special texturing to the “blind” Pozza in the second act.  Randy Hughson creates a believably pathetic Lucky.  His extended monologue, when he breaks from his controlled shell and spews a Beckett-speak message of anguish, is compelling.

The set, lighting, and interlude music all add positively to the production.

Capsule judgement:  As illustrated by the curtain call to WAITING FOR GODOT, this is a love-it or hate-it experience.  While half of the sold-out audience was on its feet shouting, “Bravo,” the remainder were passively sitting in their seats, shaking their heads in confused wonder. 

WAITING FOR GODOT THE runs through September 20, 2013 at the Stratford Festival.  For information call or go to: 800-567-1600 or go on-line to