Lord preserve Samuel Beckett (and Harold Pinter, and Eugene Ionesco and Edward Albee, et al) from the predations of literary theorists who have declared him “important,” a practitioner of something called, airily, “theater of the absurd,” a playwright with deep philosophical leanings. This is nonsense. Beckett was not in the “significance” business; he created rip-roaring theatrical entertainments, boffo comedies replete with trou-dropping physical humor. His rich language thrills: “We give birth astride a grave. The light gleams an instant, then it’s night once more.” Wow. Characters are sweet; we gleefully identify with them. Do you require a PhD to enjoy Waiting For Godot (at the Jungle Theater, through Sept 30)? Certainly not!
Godot director Bain Boehlke understands all this perfectly and his reading of this oft-produced (and oft-mangled) delight is straight-forward and unencumbered. Didi (aka Vladimir) and Gogo (Estragon) have tumbled down a very strange rabbit hole into a blasted and eerie landscape, where they live on carrots, discuss hanging themselves from a dead tree, talk incessantly (to relieve the overwhelming burden of time). Their savior is one Monsieur Godot and he, daily, sends a nervous child to request that Didi and Gogo wait another day. They do.
The narcoleptically goofy Gogo is wonderfully played by Nathan Keepers. His howls of horror every time he hears the name “Godot” delight. I couldn’t take my eyes off his shellacked hair. In Act 1, Didi (the astonishingly creative Jim Lichtscheidl) suffers from tummy cramps and untoward urinary events, but in Act 2 he comes into his own, sweetly pompous, officious and talky. We yearn for him to rise above the sterile and strange world in which he has found himself, but we know he never will. Gogo and Didi are the oddest and wonderfulest couple ever.
Boehlke’s production kicks into high gear when Pozzo arrives, whipping the luckless Lucky (though we soon begin to wonder who’s leading whom). Allen Hamilton plays Pozzo with a vivid combination of Humpty Dumpty and the bizarrely Happy Alpine Wanderer. Hamilton has played this role before and his delight in it is evident – he’s perfect. The wraith-like Charles Shuminski delivers the famous “thinking speech” (“Given the existence as uttered forth of a personal God quaquaquaquaqua with white beard…”) brilliantly. Was here a greenish cast to his features or was it my feverish imagination? Probably the latter. In any case, this Waiting For Godot is the best-acted show currently running.
As hardly needs to be said about a Jungle play, the design is exquisite in its simplicity. The set (by Boehlke) uses the entire Jungle space. The tree is perfect, and ditto the lighting (Barry Browning) and the ragged costumes (Amelia Cheever).
Don’t go to Waiting For Godot expecting it to make coherent sense. Do expect to be transported.
For more information about John Olive please visit his (recently updated) website.