Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett. Directed by Anders Cato.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
"If he comes, weíll be saved.."
David Adkins and Stephen DeRosa; photo: Kevin Sprague
Revelations donít show up on your doorstep waiting to be received or even recognized. Revelations happen. Boom! In your face! Simple as that. When the season was announced and I saw this play listed I thought, "Why? Havenít we seen this enough already?" That was in May. Now itís August. Revelations happen.
I had even read the play this year, in a new bilingual edition published by Grove Press; I reviewed it. In the play, just to make things worse, the two principal characters Vladimir and Estragon have a fight which involves them calling one another names. What do they say...which harsh names do they use? "Moron! Vermin! Abortion! Morpion! Sewer-rat! Curate! Cretin! Crritic!" That should have put me off, youíd think.
Anders Catoís production of this classic 20th century absurdist comedy, now on stage at the Berkshire Theatre Festivalís Unicorn Theatre in Stockbridge, changes everything for me. Thatís the revelation of revelations. Now, I think, I understand this difficult and sometimes offensive play. Itís about brothers.
For the first time in all the years Iíve been seeing this play, reading this play, it has hit me that these two odd men, these vagrants lost in time and in space, are blood relatives, brothers. They have been in service, as young children, to a man named Godot and he has released them into the world they have never been trained to handle and now, years later, they expect to meet him and to glean from him something of value that will sustain them through their final days. These are men over fifty - they tell us that. They are men who understand one another, sympathize and empathize as well. They each know the otherís rhythms and quirks. They revel in the little things that bring pleasure to themselves and to one another. The revelation of their true relationship comes through the entrance of another child, a youngster who calls to Vladimirís mind memories of himself and of his brother bringing similar messages from Godot to other men in other times and places. That, somehow, I have never seen this before is remarkable. In this production it all seems too clear to have been missed all these years.
It is also the first time that the oddly difficult relationship between Pozzo and Lucky has been so clear. This is a loving/slave/sado-masochist/non-sexual relationship between an avowed master and a needy self-deprecating creature. In this production the sweetness of this peculiar friendship is a highlight rather than a dreadful passage of time. Once again Cato provides a new look at these two men. Where I once thought that Pozzo might be Godot, I now am sure he is not. Godot may be thoughtless in his treatment of his servants, but he is not the delectably cruel monster that Pozzo can become when he wants.
Pozzo is played here by David Schramm who has so many colors in his voice, face and body language that at any given moment he can morph into someone totally new from the person he was a second before. The unutterable sadness of a line such as "He can no longer endure my presence," tears your heart out when only a moment before you are repulsed by his crudeness and the mean-spirited attitude he shows toward Lucky. Schramm is more and more impressive an actor with every role he undertakes.
His servant, slave, dependent, lover, ironically named Lucky, is played by a totally involved, blank-expressioned, Randy Harrison. With body bruise makeup and tattoos, wild hair and a sullen, expressionless face, he stomachs every insult, every blow and every bit of abuse hurled his way. His silence is truly golden and when, as the thinking man, he finally gets to speak the exhaustion his monologue creates in himself and his listeners, us included, is overwhelming: "...eighteen holes tennis of all sorts in a word for reasons unknown in Feckham Peckham Fulham Clapham namely concurrently simultaneously what is more for reasons unknown but time will tell fades away I resume..."
The boy with the message is played with the perfect amount of fear and purpose by Cooper Stanton.
The bulk of the play and the true success of the production lies in the hands of two actors of extraordinary range, David Adkins as Vladimir (Didi) and Stephen DeRosa as Estragon (GoGo). These two men, so very different in reality, merge into two sides of a very thin coin. Their timing together is incomparable. Their voices, their movements, their choreographed reactions are rapturous. Too similar and too unalike at the same time to be anything but brothers raised together, bound together by both tradition and emotion, they play like the finest comedy teams of the past: the Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello. Cato has given them actions and reactions that smack of these forebears, particularly the Marx Brothers. DeRosa, in particular, seems to switch back and forth between Groucho and Harpo while Adkins is the perfect Chico Marx.
The two men hang on one another as though one were merely the appendage of the other. They do physical comedy, song-and-dance style routines, solo turns and duets in their long period of time alone together on stage. They manage the scatological schtick with a simplicity that takes away the erotic yet leaves the implications intact. They make the play into the honest, human comedy that Beckett must have had in mind when he first wrote the piece. That this is the only time in my experience of it - as an adult anyway - that it has emerged as such a laugh riot is a tribute to the men involved on stage and at the directorís table. The show just works and the apocalypse is now.
Cato has devised a way to use physical comedy to create the reality that is missing in Beckettís script. For example, in Act One when Pozzo decides to leave the script says simply: "POZZO: I donít seem to be able . . .[long hesitation]. . . to depart." Cato gives Schramm a series of departure preparations to use in the "long hesitation" that become increasingly more outrageous each time he tries to move his legs. With each attempt the laughter grows until Schramm can finally shift his weight and move those reluctant feet. Throughout the play the director works with these sorts of oddments that donít occur in the written script, that arenít called for, yet seem so devastatingly right, so much what the playwright intended.
On a most unusual set designed by Lee Savage, in the oddest clothing possible designed by Jennifer Moeller under extraordinary lighting by Jeff Davis (a client of mine, but this is an honest appraisal) who makes a bright white box into a moody playing arena and does mechanical night better than anyone else, the company creates a whole-cloth tapestry of the human condition.
"Happy....not quite the right word," says Vladimir when trying to explain his feelings to his close associate and possible brother. But happy is certainly the word I came away with from this new, fine production of a play I suddenly like much more than I ever thought I could. You owe it to yourself to give this a try. It may not make much sense to you, but it will certainly have an effect on you that will last a long, long time...like a lifetime. Like waiting.
Randy Harrison and David Schramm; photo: Kevin Sprague
DeRosa and Adkins; photo: Kevin Sprague
Waiting for Godot plays at the Unicorn Theatre at the Berkshire Theatre Festival through August 23. Prices range from $19.50 to $44. For tickets or information about schedules call the box office at 413-298-5576.