APT’s version of “Godot” entertains, nearly makes Beckett understandable
As anyone who has ever taken an English class in college, or even just those finely-versed in plays of the 20th Century can attest, Samuel Beckett’s seminal Waiting for Godot (written in 1949 and first produced in 1953) shows up on the docket and the search for meaning begins. No matter how many times you read the sparse script, or how many times (or ways) you see it performed, the understanding of what is happening or what Beckett is reflecting on can be elusive.
Everyone that’s anyone in the theatrical world has taken a shot at it. It remains as timeless now as it did during the Atomic Age. So the burden goes to the regional director and actors to work out a most humane portrayal and hope for the best. American Players Theatre actors Jim DeVita as Estragon (Gogo) and James Ridge as Vladimir (Didi) make the most of the material in a vaudevillian, almost schizophrenic sort of way that makes this reflection on existence and friendship more accessible and almost comprehensible.
Timing and physicality is everything in this nearly sold-out staging, which runs through mid-October at APT’s indoor Touchstone Theater in Spring Green. The actors’ aplomb with bombast accounts for both a raucous time and sleepy moments of despair.
Godot is a man (or possibly God, but we’re led to believe he’s just a guy) that the two central characters wait to see on a desolate road near a desolate tree. Estragon is an imp and manic-depressive, which only hints at the psychological damage this homeless man is suffering. Vladimir is also homeless but more intellectual. He suffers from memory losses and a kidney infection.
There are moments within the play that cause the audience to applaud, like a frenetic hat swap routine (inspired perhaps by pre-Beckett absurdists Harpo and Chico Marx in Duck Soup) and a command diatribe by the normally mute Lucky that ends in the foursome wrestling to the ground.
I’ve always been a stickler for pacing. Sometimes, in the due course of keeping play length under two hours (an archaic movie length measurement really), the dialogue gets sped up and tripped over. In the case of Waiting for Godot — even though it’s not explicitly said in the book — there are moments of fantastic cadence met by uncomfortable yet musically-matched silence. You can almost count a 4/4 at certain spots.
DeVita transforms his body and face into the miserable Gogo, comically surprising the audience with interpretive ways of saying a line or throwing himself physically into a space. Ridge is an equal player in those regards, and helps to keep the loosening strings of the story bound together. His expressive eyes are all that is needed in the intimate thrust stage. Mani is dutiful in a boorish persona, equaling a kind of Zero Mostel level of control in the role. The greatest enigma here is the strange role Pribyl wheezes through as Lucky, which ends in that spiraling, looping speech that should be recorded for a time capsule.
Godot’s staging is scarce yet more stylishly designed than any set-up I’ve ever seen for the Beckett play. The stage direction is inspired within space as limited as a jail cell.
There is a fifth player, Godot’s errand boy played, on alternate nights by Marco Lama and Anders-James Wermuth. He acts as a kind of burning bush to Vladimir, but really the performance could have been played by an off-screen voice, for all its effect on the play.
If you’ve ever suffered through a production of Godot before just for its usefulness in cocktail party chatter, it may be time to give the play an honest shot. Even if you still don’t get it, you’ll be entertained.
For tickets, showtimes, and details on special events like post-show discussions, visit the APT website.