In a just world, the Hollywood Theater, that Depression-era temple to the art of cinema, would thrive. A small but worthy arts group – like, oh, say, Theatre Pro Rata – would take over, quickly find the dough for lovely and efficient air conditioning, silent and effective air circulation. New plumbing would get laid (toilets!), new wiring installed (lights!). The vermin-infested seating would be tossed into the dumpsters and cushy and comfy seats screwed down. The interior would be painted, and care taken to preserve the peeling pigment from the 30s (which contains, of course, no lead). And, oh yes, the floor: sprung maple flooring, so beloved of dancers, would grace the stage. Plush carpeting in the lobby. An LED sign outside. Ahhhhhhhhhh…
But this is not to be. In 1990 the city council, in its ineffable wisdom, declared the derelict Hollywood, located in a pleasant but out-of-the-way section of Nordeast Minneapolis, too precious to lose. But no money to rehab the place was provided. Thus the Hollywood molders. Furnaces die. Critters scamper. The theater goes from photogenically decrepit to… something else. Year after year.
Into this un-air-conditioned and dusty jumble comes the intrepid Theatre Pro Rata with a brisk and effective production of – what else? – Samuel Beckett‘s masterful Waiting For Godot (Theatre Pro Rata, at the Hollywood, through July 23). They have carved out a playing space in the middle of the auditorium, defined by some ratty rugs; put up, in place of real lighting, some Home Depot dumps; installed a scratchy sound system; and set up some Porta-potties out back.
And then popped the clutch on Beckett’s abstruse but marvelous comedy about the struggle to find tranquility, the need for (and the horror of) love. Mysteriously drawn to each other, Estragon and Vladimir occupy a blasted corner of a bizarre post-apocalyptic world. They chatter, try on hats and shoes, eat repulsive vegetables, deal with mad Pozzo and his happy-go-lucky (he seems to be the best-adjusted character in the play) slave Lucky. And they wait (for Godot – here pronounced “GOD-oh”), endlessly. “If only I could sleep!” “It is not enough to have lived. They have to talk about it.” “Critic!”
Director Ryan Ripley‘s production is brisk and energetic. He seems to understand that the Hollywood is not the place for the deliberate, stylized, balletic interpretation so in vogue these days. His Godot emphasizes physicality and pratfalls. It doesn’t pause to savor Beckett’s opulent language, or his philosophical/quasi-theological musings. This Godot moves.
Ripley is aided immeasurably by the terrific work of Dave Gangler as Vladimir. Small and wiry, bedraggled innocence shining through, Gangler runs frenetically back and forth, filling the theater with mad energy. His efforts to pee against the far wall of the Hollywood are priceless. As Estragon, James Rodriguez is also good, though I too often could see the actor angling for effects. Still, his Gogo has some thrillingly heart-breaking moments. Jesse Corder‘s (mostly) aphasic Lucky is lovely, as is David Tufford‘s Pozzo (though I wish Tufford were more genuinely scary). Hazel Cutting does a sweet turn in the small but crucial role of Boy, squeaking out her lines from the distant Hollywood stage.
This is Poor Theater at its purest: a derelict and dusty playing space, crude set and light, good acting and a great play. It’s also a (final?) chance to experience the old Hollywood. Go prepared: you will need a good hand fan, a liter of spring water, and loose clothes you don’t mind getting dirty. I’ll bet you have a good time.
For more information about John Olive, please visit his website.