The Seattle Shakespeare Company has come indoors to the Falls Theatre at ACT and produced a very fine Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett as their part of the Seattle Beckett Festival. Director George Mount has struck the humor mother lode Beckett buried in the play. Had this production been the world premiere this play would never have received a reputation for being “tedious.” It helps that all of the actors know their lines well and have terrific comic timing.
Beckett doesn’t write according to the usual rules. This places him in the theater of the absurd. Characters have little or no arc, but interactions among characters might be drawn as a spiral. To wit: Act 1, Estragon (Gogo) and Vladimir (Didi), 2 bums, reconnect after separating the night before and wait under a tree for Godot. While they wait they chat, talk, tell jokes and stories, dispute, consider suicide, threaten to break up, etc. Almost as a distraction, a master (Pozzo) and his slave (Lucky) come through. Pozzo is taking Lucky to the market to sell him. Lucky is very overburdened, yet remarkably obedient. Turns out Lucky can dance (a little, but he used to dance a great deal according to Pozzo), and Thinks alot. A boy arrives to say that Godot will not be coming there today, but maybe tomorrow. Gogo and Didi cannot bear to keep on like this and decide to leave, but go nowhere. Intermission.
Act 2 is a variant on Act 1. There’s a question of—Are they really in the same place? Didi shows a disinterested Gogo the few tentative leaves growing on the tree. They endure as they can the tedium of waiting, and Pozzo and Lucky come through again. Except that now Pozzo is blind and when he falls has a particularly hard time getting up, and Lucky is mute, so no more Thinking out of him. Yet with a blind master Lucky’s escape is a no-brainer but he continues to serve. A boy arrives to say that Godot will not be coming there today, but maybe tomorrow. Gogo and Didi cannot bear to keep on like this and really decide to leave this time, but go nowhere. Curtain.
Another rule Beckett breaks is he doesn’t have the climax near the end of the play, instead he puts it near the end of Act 1. The climax of the play, if it can be called even that, is Lucky’s speech after he is commanded to Think by Pozzo. Lucky can be made to Think by having his hat placed on his head. This leads to the logical business that when at last his hat is removed he will stop Thinking. While his hat is on he babbles in what may sound like lunatic fragments of thought, but closer listening shows that Lucky is describing various attitudes toward God. Perhaps the speech is fragmented because beginning with Martin Luther, Protestant approaches to worship and belief shattered Christian theology into many fragments.
If Lucky’s Thinking has some bits of truth wrapped in crazy language, then meaning goes into hiding. But it’s there in plain sight: meaning shows up in their relationships. In this play there are many relationships: Gogo and Didi are roughly equals and care about and for one another; Pozzo and Lucky are in a dominant-subordinate relationship; Gogo and Didi relate to Pozzo and Lucky sometimes as audience (Act 1) and sometimes as rescuers (Act 2). Then there’s the relationship between Didi and the boy messenger, which is mostly one of respect though Didi gets a trifle rough due to his frustrations.
The cast was terrific all around. Darragh Kennan plays Estragon (Gogo) and you may have caught his splendid Sherlock Holmes in the Hounds of Baskerville. He provides the perfect foil and straight man at times for Todd Jefferson Moore’s Vladimir (Didi). These two are a delight to watch, and their timing and physical routines are classic vaudeville. Scenic Designer Craig Wolman evokes the bygone vaudeville stage with a tattered platform framed by painted plywood to resemble curtains. In the other productions of Godot I have seen there has been a tree, a painted backdrop of a barren land, and a stump or rock to sit on. That’s it. Beckett intends for an extremely spare set. Directors and designers have to restrain themselves, perhaps seek counseling.
Chris Ensweiler as Pozzo played this blowhard role with gusto and relish. As Lucky the slave, Jim Hamerlinck drew applause after Lucky’s Thinking speech. In Hammerlinck’s hands, Lucky’s speech had clear sections, and the first few paragraphs sounded vaguely sensible. Compared to how this speech was handled in other productions, it is a vast improvement.
Alex Silva as Boy might be blocked better to face the audience and miked so that he is heard throughout the space.
Overall: This is a funny, insightful take on Waiting for Godot.
More information about the Seattle Beckett Festival can be found at: www.seattlebeckettfest.org. The festival started with Life = Play: An Evening of Short Works and Rarities, reviewed here. Drama in the Hood reviewed Live! Beckett on the Radio here. The Beckett Festival spans 5 months and involves 15 local theaters and colleges, presenting well-known plays like Endgame and Waiting for Godot as well as many of his short plays and radio dramas.
Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett, directed by George Mount. A Seattle Shakespeare Company production. Runtime 2 hr, 30 min. Falls Theatre at ACT Theatre. 700 Union St. Post play discussions Sept. 7, 11, & 14. Times and tickets information at: acttheatre.org or 206 292.7676. Closes September 21.