Waiting for Godot
Beckett comes to Studio 54.
Thu May 7 2009
Photo: Joan Marcus
Time Out Ratings :<strong>Rating: </strong>5/5
Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot is many things: iconic piece of absurdist theater; cosmic meditation on life’s meaninglessness; avant-garde breakthrough that altered playwriting. But what about funny? Does anyone think of Godot as a source of giggly delight? They might, after seeing Anthony Page’s enormously satisfying and visceral version at Studio 54.
Bill Irwin and Nathan Lane make an unusually tender (possibly romantic) couple as Vladimir and Estragon, Beckett’s wanderers in a wasteland without end, depicted as a prehistoric expanse of boulders with the requisite dead tree. Page hews faithfully to Beckett’s dramaturgical strictures, but he allows softening bits of humanity around the edges of the flinty gloom. For example, in the play’s final tableau, our tramps stand frozen, unable to go, yet they reach out and hold hands before final blackout. Were Beckett alive, he might forbid the business as sentimental, but it suits this production, which balances overt theatricality and (dare I say it?) an almost naturalistic approach to the world. Lane sneaks in bits of camp shtick, but never out of proportion to the humor needed to leaven Beckett’s despairing philosophic outlook.
In their easy and mercurial rapport, Lane and Irwin summon up the rhythms of an old married couple, instantly securing our love (not, admittedly, an emotion one usually feels for Beckett’s characters). Beyond their vibrant, anchoring presence, the revelation is John Goodman’s operatic turn as flamboyantly cruel Pozzo, master of the subhuman slave, Lucky (John Glover, somehow balancing ghoul and seraph). Goodman and Glover make Pozzo and Lucky’s journey through this purgatorial landscape as compelling as Vladimir and Estragon’s. You half expect them to march off stage and become Hamm and Clov in Endgame. But then, it’s a testament to this richly realized Godot that you can almost see the seeds of Beckett’s future work, ready to sprout from barren ground.—David Cote