Beckett’s vaudevillian vagabonds are worth the waiting in Ron OJ Parson’s Court Theatre production.
Nothing, and everything, happens in Samuel Beckett’s best-known play. Two tramps, Vladimir and Estragon, wait on a road for the elusive Mr. Godot, whose arrival will reward or perhaps redeem them. They bicker and banter for long stretches, conjuring a fraught version of old slapstick comedy teams like Laurel and Hardy; twice, their routines are interrupted by the crossing of a preening blowhard and his slave. Time and meaning seem mutable and immaterial; as one critic wrote of the 1956 Broadway production, “It is a mystery wrapped in an enigma.”
Ron OJ Parson’s new production at Court, set by designer Courtney O’Neill on what you might call a traffic island if there were any traffic, makes no bold statements about the riddle’s meaning (indeed, it’s doubtful the famously prickly Beckett estate would allow anything too bold). But the use of an all African-American cast imbues some new meaning: particularly in the relationship between A.C. Smith’s egotistical Pozzo and his slave, Lucky, played with a remarkable physicality by Anthony Lee Irons, but also, as Parson suggests, between recent events in this country and the inexorable wait for life’s truth to reveal itself.
Allen Gilmore’s self-consciously plummy Vladimir contrasts nicely with Alfred H. Wilson’s unpretentious, often childlike Estragon; the pair of stage vets establish a solid duo dynamic. Their lack of agency is frustratingly recognizable, particularly when viewed through a social-justice lens. “Don't let's do anything. It's safer,” Gogo says, to which Didi agrees, “Let's wait till we know exactly how we stand.” It’s all too clear just how long a wait that’s going to be.
Court Theatre. By Samuel Beckett. Directed by Ron OJ Parson. With Alfred H. Wilson, Allen Gilmore, A.C. Smith, Anthony Lee Irons. Running time: 2hrs 50mins; one intermission.