Broadway Opening Review, May 2009
Samuel Beckett’s monumental work first performed in 1953 has gained critical acclaim not because it is topical or “avant-garde” but because it introduced the idea that theater could be more than entertaining, could reflect more than the trivial affairs of life or even our deepest emotions. Waiting for Godot introduced the idea that theater can focus on the spiritual and philosophical questions of the meaning of life and still be engaging and entertaining. It was not however, an instant success…In its first English language run in London Sir Malcolm Sargent, a member of The Evening Standard Drama Awards threatened to resign if Godot won The Best New Play category, so a compromise was worked out by changing the title of the award. Waiting for Godot became The Most Controversial Play of the Year which is a prize that has never been given since.
In the current Roundabout Theater revival seamlessly directed by Anthony Page, Beckett’s existential perspective looms over the actors and the sparse set and diffuses throughout the theater so you don’t so much watch the play as experience it. The two main characters Estragon and Vladimir (affectionately known as Gogo and Didi) played by Nathan Lane and Bill Irwin, respectively, spend their time waiting for Godot who (and don’t worry, this is definitely not a spoiler) of course never shows. While never explicitly stated, think of Godot as the meaning of life. They are doomed to repeat the same routine day after day but the concept of time gets fuzzy as things never really change. They (we) are torn by the desire to understand vs. the need to accept our plight. The men seem to have been close for a long time and yet they (we) are each alone in the world to face its essential enigma.
The other two main characters are Pozzo (John Goodman) and his slave Lucky (John Glover) who represent the absurdity of man’s cruelty. In Act One Pozzo is a wealthy arrogant self involved SOB without a care who mercilessly abuses Lucky for his comfort and amusement. When we encounter them again in Act Two, Pozzo’s luck has turned and he is now a poor, blind, helpless creature begging for help. There but for fortune go you or I. A child (Cameron Clifford or MatthewSchecter), representing man’s innocence appears briefly to question why.
In keeping with the existentialist absurdity of life, the staging (Santo Loquasto) is stark – just a deserted rocky roadway in the middle of nowhere. And yet reflective of our need for comic relief to get through the day, Beckett sprinkles in a healthy dose of humor, both in the dialogue and in the physical Marx Brothers/Three Stooges physical comedy that counterbalances the darker themes. Irwin and Lane were spectacular in juggling (literally and figuratively) the physical and philosophical elements of our raison d’être without missing a beat. Likewise, Goodman and Glover inherit their characters and take us for a ride on an emotional roller coaster. Casting for this production reminds me of the days of the rock and roll Super Groups (e.g., Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood) or the 1992 Olympic basketball Dream Team with the likes of Michael Jordon, Magic Johnson, Larry Byrd, Charles Barkley, David Robinson, Patrick Ewing, Kris Malone, Scotty Pippen, Chris Mullen, Clyde Drexler, John Stockton and Christian Laettner. The difference is that the Super Groups or Dream Team – recorded one album or played one series and then it was over. Luckily for us, this Theatrical Dream Team will be appearing together at Studio 54 eight shows a week for several glorious months.