Strong staging makes ‘Godot’ worth the wait
Nobody, with the possible exception of Samuel Beckett himself, can claim to know the exact meaning of “Waiting for Godot.”
The Interplayers Theatre’s smart, funny and altogether admirable version won’t change that.
Yet it did occur to me, as I watched two tramps named Vladimir and Estragon spend a couple of hours doing pretty much nothing except wait for some guy named Godot, that this play makes a simple and apt metaphor for existence itself:
We spend most of our lives passing time, hopeful that someone will come along and change everything. Trouble is, that someone often fails to show.
I don’t think I’m giving much away to say that, in this case, Vladimir and Estragon are still waiting.
Most people have heard of this 1952 absurdist-existentialist classic; it is considered one of the most influential plays of the 20th century. Yet most people have never seen it live, and certainly not in Spokane, which has never before had a professional production.
So the big surprise is not how profound it is, or how symbolic it is. The big surprise is how funny and entertaining it is.
This is mostly due to excellent, intelligent and comically modulated performances by Jonn Jorgensen and Reed McColm as Vladimir and Estragon. Director Karen Kalensky has visualized them as two mournful Chaplinesque tramps with almost infantile characteristics. Both of them are prone to flapping their arms in frustration and whining about their plight – and who can blame them? They are on a desolate road, clothed in tatters, wearing ill-fitting boots, and set upon at night by thugs.
The only bit of hope in their lives is that Vladimir has arranged for a mystery man named Godot to meet them at a certain tree and – what? Give them a job? Money? Food? Vague hope?
They have no way to pass the time except in conversation. Since Estragon can barely remember anything that happened yesterday, these conversations peter out in comic absurdity.
This is broken up only by the arrival, once in each act, of a self-satisfied landowner named Pozzo (played with whirlwind intensity by the excellent Damon Abdallah) and a tethered servant who goes by the absurdly wrong name of Lucky.
Michael Maher turns in an unforgettable performance as Lucky, especially during the key scene in which Lucky is ordered to “think.” He spews out a verbal tsunami of philosophy, science, religion, obscenity and who knows what else. None of it makes an iota of sense. Maher delivers it in a breathless, sputtering tour de force of mad intensity.
When Pozzo and Lucky finally leave the stage, Vladimir and Estragon have an exchange that sum up their personalities and, in some ways, the play itself.
Vladimir: “That passed the time.”
Estragon: “It would have passed in any case.”
McColm is so good – with such skills of voice and gesture – that I had trouble taking my eyes off of him. A classic McColm moment comes when he tries on a boot and limps around the stage in tearful agony. Then his face goes limp and he says, “It fits.”
Yet Jorgensen is in many ways the heart and soul of this play. His character is the straight man of the comedy duo, but he is far more than a foil. His voice is an expressive instrument, full of character, and he extracts laughs (and meaning) out of the most opaque Beckett dialogue, such as: “I get used to the muck as I go along.”
Jorgensen and McColm, under Kalensky’s sharp direction, do exactly what this play requires. They infuse meaning, drama and humor into the many long passages of seemingly inane conversation.
The evening ends up touching on fundamental themes of existence and perseverance and hope. As Vladimir and Estragon end one more day in which Godot fails to show, they make their plans for tomorrow. They’ll either hang themselves, or – see if Godot shows up.
Perhaps this is the theme. As long as we have someone to wait with, we can all bear to wait for Godot.
“Waiting for Godot” continues through April 11. Call (509) 455-PLAY.