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Lucy Komisar

"Waiting for Godot" - Beckett on the uselessness of expecting God to save us from misery

"Waiting for Godot."
Written by Samuel Beckett; directed by Anthony Page.
Produced By Roundabout Theatre Company.
Studio 54, 254 West 54th Street.
Opened April 30, 2009; closes July 12, 2009.
Reviewed by Lucy Komisar May 2, 2009.

For me the mystery of Samuel Beckett's play about two down-at-the-heels hobos who watch an overbearing "master" abuse a pathetic slave is the division of the audience between those who laugh and those who don’t.

Bill Irwin and Nathan Lane in "Waiting for Godot," Photo by Joan Marcus.

I noticed this years ago when I first saw the play Off Broadway. There it was again at the current Roundabout Theatre production. When I commented about it to my seatmate at intermission, a lady in the row in front of us (in her 60s) turned around and nodded emphatically.

Is this an age thing? Are the chucklers people brought up on TV laugh tracks who think that if they don't understand something the proper response is to guffaw?

It's not as if they are laughing at pratfalls. Beckett's austere landscape of white rocks and a bare tree (sets by Santo Loquasto) backdrops two raggedy old men who have been together 30 years and don't find much to enjoy about life.

Gogo/Estragon (Nathan Lane) is distraught snooty. Didi/Vladimir (Bill Irwin) is mild calm and understanding. They wonder, "We lost our rights." Didi notes, "We got rid of them." (Estragon, by the way, is French for the spice tarragon.)

More pathetic is the drooling slave Lucky (John Glover) in stringy white hair, puffing and panting as he is driven by the fat Pozzo (John Goodman). Lucky carries Pozzo's baggage, a satchel and 3-legged stool

They are mankind, the oppressor and the oppressed.

Didi says, "It’s a scandal to treat a human being that way."

Gogo: "Why doesn’t he put down his bags? It is pathetic." Much of the audience laughs.

The characters race and pace, half run/walk around the stage. From the stage, "The air is full of our cries, but habit is a great deafener." So is the laughter of the masses.

For me then, the wonder of the play is not just its ability to evoke cruelty, but the unthinking odd laughter that it evokes.

Director Anthony Page has created a fantasy slice of life that bursts vividly out of the bubble of the viewer's imagination.

John Glover, Bill Irwin, Nathan Lane and John Goodman in "Waiting for Godot." Photo by Joan Marcus.

Nathan Lane is too over-the-top for my tastes; he seems to be playing vaudeville. Bill Irwin is subtle and moving. My favorite of the cast is John Glover as Lucky; he exudes misery to the point where it seems an artistic trait. John Goodman never persuaded me that he was the slave-driving Pozzo.

And, yes, after all these years we have now learned that is GOD-oh, with the emphasis on the first syllable. But Beckett's point is that in the face of misery and brutality, God never shows up.



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