Thursday, July 2, 2009

Theater Review: Waiting for Godot

Location: Studio 54, 254 West 54th St., NY, NY

Website: Official Waiting for Godot site

Starring: Nathan Lane, Bill Irwin, John Goodman, John Glover

My Review: After suffering through the abysmal The Philanthropist, I was thrilled that the next offering from my Roundabout Theatre subscription was a great production. But it’s a great production of a play I’m somewhat ambivalent about.

Describing the plot of Waiting for Godot overly simplifies the play, but here goes: Two dusty hobos, named Estragon and Vladimir, are waiting in a stark and barren location for Godot to arrive. They’ve never met Godot, so they don’t know what he looks like, nor are they sure why they’re waiting for him, but they continue to wait nevertheless. To pass the time they tell jokes that never reach the punch line, bicker about things like ill-fitting boots, and contemplate hanging themselves from a nearby tree, if only they had a bit of rope. The large and in charge Pozzo arrives on the scene with his slave, Lucky, in tow, and while he’s blustery and unsettling, his company allows the two to pass the time more quickly. At the end of the day, a young boy arrives to announce that Godot will not be coming, but he will surely come tomorrow. And then another day begins, much in the same way as the one before.

Not a whole lot actually happens on stage; the entire point of Godot is for each audience member to decide what it means to them. For those interested in some serious analysis, surely there are plenty of Drama student’s term papers available that cover the various themes and metaphors of the play. For those interested in my take, I believe the play is a comment on the futility of life. Much like Estragon and Vladimir, we’re all constantly waiting for something that may never arrive; waiting to find that dream job, waiting to meet that person who will change our life, waiting to take that big vacation, waiting to figure out what we should be doing with our time on Earth. And the sad truth is, that while we wait for the big life events to happen, the rest of life quietly slips by, and to pass the time, we tell jokes, sing songs, bicker and argue, delight in the occasional distraction (no matter how disconcerting it may be), and every once in awhile ponder what would happen if we just ended it all. And then another day begins, indistinguishable from any number of days preceding it, and we continue to wait.

The production of Godot playing at Studio 54 presents this study in wasted life beautifully, with its minimalist set design and excellent cast. Nathan Lane and Bill Irwin are the main two, and while both are primarily known for their comedic acting (and there are plenty of opportunities for some clowning in Godot), they also deftly express the sorrow and frustration in waiting for something that seems doomed to never happen. John Goodman is the oversized Pozzo (both in terms of personality and actual size), a well-to-do blowhard with a slave (John Glover) who he keeps on an increasingly short leash. Whenever Pozzo arrives on stage, he’s meant to disturb the monotony that Estragon and Vladimir have established, and Goodman does an excellent job of commanding the scene whenever he appears. As the mostly silent slave Lucky, Glover manages to be both comic and tragic in the same moment, as he totes his master’s luggage through the barren wasteland they’re traveling and obliges his commands to “think” and “dance”, which he does on shaky limbs while panting and gasping for air. Yet when Estragon and Vladimir attempt to show him a bit of kindness, Lucky lashes out at them, preferring to remain an abused slave to the master he’s used to. And if that’s not a bleakly accurate metaphor for life itself, I don’t know what is.

Bottom Line: Waiting for Godot is a slow-moving play for an audience who doesn’t mind thinking about what they’re seeing. The end of the first act feels like the end of the play, and you wonder what could possibly happen in Act II. And then Act II begins, and the whole point (or rather, pointlessness) of it all becomes clear. With a lesser cast, Godot would be a plodding bore, but in the hands of these expert players, you don’t mind joining them in the wait.

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