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Margaret Croyden

"Waiting For Godot"

Waiting For Godot by Samuel Beckett
With Nathan Lane, Bill Irwin, John Goodman and John Glover
Directed by Anthony Page
The Roundabout Theater Production
Studio 54
Reviewed May 4, 2009 by Margaret Croyden

What a pleasure to see grown up theater once again, to listen to a play with ideas, and to be in the presence of Samuel Beckett, the literary genius who knew how to express man's deepest feelings about existence, and inability to accept it for what it is, and always will be. The story is simple. Two tramps are on a bleak road waiting for someone called Godot. Neither man knows who Godot is and what he wants; still they are waiting. The tramps are homeless, dirty, hungry, disheveled, uneducated, lonely. They cling to each other on an almost bare stage where the only sign of life is a skinny tree, and number of rocks; the only food they have is a dried up carrot. One tells the other that they must wait for Godot, despite the fact that they don't know who he is, or what he wants. And so they wait.

Thousands of words have been written about the significance of waiting. Is Beckett expressing peoples' hopes and expectations only to be fooled into waiting for something that will never come to pass? Are people waiting for an event that will change their lives? Are they passing time waiting for God or the inevitable? Is all existence nothing but a process of waiting? Maybe it is all of the above. Maybe that was Beckett's intentions.

What is so provocative about this play is its ambiguity, its mysterious search for the meaning of existence, and its delineation of mankind's loneliness and inability to be free of attachments, or dependence on another person who might help him to wait for "je ne sais pas."

After a while, a big, fat, loud mouthed character (Pozzo) appears led by a bedraggled, worn out, shriveled up man who is tied to a rope around his neck. The slave-like character (Lucky) is whipped, ordered by his keeper to serve him, and obey him without complaining. Who is this Pozzo and the man called Lucky--an ironic name for a slave. No one knows. You may interpret it as you wish. Are they also waiting for Godot, or are they beyond waiting. Lucky carries a basket of food and a bottle of wine, neither of which is shared with the two tramps, who are starving. You may make of Pozzo what you will: capitalist, sadist, emperor, exploiter, slave owner, evil and greed personified, over indulged mankind, or anything else you might imagine. The slave is dressed in rags, a few unkempt grey hairs hang over his face; he says nothing; he seems dumb but suddenly he speaks, but it is gibberish, no language at all-- some complicated words strung together full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. When one of the bums tries to untie his rope, he gives him a kick in the shins. He wants to be enslaved, it seems. He is used to his position in life and wont give it up.

And so the play is a metaphoric depiction of man's existence: life's absurdities, its complications and contradictions, its ridiculousness, its sadness and emptiness and hopeful anticipation. Beckett's use of comedy and poetic dialogue all combined expresses the mystery and hopelessness of life. Yet his characters search in their own way for some meaning however hidden it may be.

The cast succeeds in projecting all these qualities to a great extent although their performances are not flawless. Nathan Lane as Estragon, the chief bum is a worrier a complainer, a depressed and hopeless type who is bewildered and baffled by his situation. Nathan Lane has all the laughs which are not ordinary vaudeville lines, but express the comic (and bitter) irony of existence. Lane is one of our most brilliant comics in the theater; he makes every moment come alive. His energy is flawless; he dominates the stage and his movements and timing are perfect. It would be hard to outshine him. Bill Irwin as Vladimir, is the perfect foil for Lane. As the strange, witless, do gooder bum who looks at the brighter side of things, he is the calmer of the two. He is sure that Godot will come; they have only to wait. Bill Irwin is sometimes touching in this role but playing with Nathan Lane makes him appear bland. Nevertheless he is a graceful presence on stage, though some feel he is miscast. John Goodman as Pozzo is all bulk, all loud, and heavy voice. With a body that looks to be 300 pounds, he moves gracefully around the stage but his bulk dominated the scene. One could say that he is the dark force that is everywhere and comes out of no- where. Mean, selfish, loud, vulgar, cruel--all this is perfectly depicted by John Goodman, but no one can beat Nathan Lane. John Glover almost does as Lucky, the slave. Lucky is speechless throughout the play and is so tied to his life as a slave that he has lost all sense of communication except for one brief moment when he does talk and it is all gibberish. Glover delivers this incomprehensible monologue with exacting skill; it is a fantastic performance. But ironically Lucky does not want to be freed. When one of the tramps attempts to help him get out of the rope around his neck, he kicks him in the shins. A slave remains a slave.

Millions of words have been written about Godot and Samuel Beckett. Everyone interpets the work differently. Once in Berlin I saw Beckett's own direction of the play which was an unforgettable experience. In Beckett's production the stage was empty, (no rocks) only a skinny tree hung in the center of the stage, and the lighting was surprisingly exquisite. In addition to the humor and wit, the actors exuded something else: a sense of being, a different dimension, a mystical, mysterious vein had enveloped the play. While the two bums were of the world, the tone of the play was on another level.
However comparisons with other productions are really unimportant. Whatever their shortcomings these actors come through. Beckett's play is alive. And it is a wonderful, mysterious, provocative experience in the theater.

Margaret Croyden's latest book is "Conversations with Peter Brook, 1970-2000" (Fairer, Straus and Giroux).

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