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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at Gerald W. Lynch Theater


  Ph: Richard Termine

Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival recently brought over Ireland’s Druid Theater production of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, directed by Druid’s artistic head Garry Hynes, who is probably best known here for her Tony-winning staging of Martin McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane.
For me, the production was an eye-opener to see a talented young ensemble of actors take on Beckett’s first play with such youthful energy. Most recent productions have featured brilliant middle-aged skilled actors like Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan, Nathan Lane, Bill Irwin and, going back a few decades, Robin Williams and Steve Martin at Lincoln Center directed by Mike Nichols. Beckett’s avant-garde genius and Nichols’ Broadway commercial directing flair never meshed.
Beckett requires a special kind of staging. In a program note, Hynes said she was a bit wary of taking on Waiting for Godot. At her Druid Theatre in Galway she booked Godot into its smallest venue, a 100-seater, so if things didn’t work out no one would know about it. It turned out to be a big success and was extended and did an Irish tour ending up in New York.
In approaching the play, Hynes and her youthful group – most of the cast members are in their 30s – seems to have zeroed in on the comic aspects of the play. The audience gets plenty of laughs, though at times I missed some of Beckett’s dark cynicism that overshadows the play's funny humor. The lead players, Estragon (Aaron Monaghan) and Valdimir (Marty Rea), are dressed in shabby, tattered gentleman's clothes, stuck on a desolate road, with a large rock and a barren willow tree. The spare set and costumes were designed by Frances X. O’Connor, with lighting by James F. Ingalls.
These poor souls are waiting for a man named Godot. The play has no plot, no action, no physical movement, yet somehow it always holds our attention. Estragon and Vladimir, longtime friends, have nicknames for one another – Gogo and Didi. Their demeanor and acting strikes us as a vaudevillian duo playing to a music hall audience. For the first time, it’s nice to hear Beckett’s lyrical language. (He wrote it in French and translated it into English for London and New York runs.) Here it is spoken with lilting brogues. Monaghan and Rea also move with mannered expertise like silent film stars like Chaplin or Buster Keaton. The production’s movement direction is by Nick Winston.
The world of Beckett is one of emptiness, with strange forces that dangle hope – like the promise of a visit from savior Godot. Life is a puzzle, with funny and foolish human intervals. In the end, we and them are left just waiting. The audience can find itself confused, frustrated in an empty Beckett world. Thanks to Beckett, he gives these forlorn fellows some showbiz blood in their veins. They are also joined by two other woebegone characters, Pozzo (Rory Nolan), a blow-hard braggart, and his beleaguered elderly servant Lucky (Garrett Lombard).
Gogo and Didi spend most of their time recalling things that happened or didn’t happen. They repeat stories. Repetition is a favorite device of Beckett. There are lots of cynical points of view, which sometimes can be very disturbing. But Beckett always does have a relief net, a flair for puns, ribald jokes and touches of vulgarity. One of the things that keeps our attention on edge and intrigued is Beckett’s novel, dramatic writing style. Even when it can be annoying or bleak, it keeps us in its hold.
Beckett was born in Ireland, and as a young man he moved to Paris. At first he was James Joyce’s secretary, and for a while Joyce’s daughter Lucia dated him. He tried to write novels, and around 1952 he tried play writing. Waiting for Godot premiered in Paris, then London and in 1956 in New York. It was a time when playwrights like Eugene Ionesco and Jean-Paul Sartre were identified loosely as avant-garde writers. Harold Pinter and Edward Albee would come on the scene a few years later. In a way, they were preparing the drama like the painters of the late 19th century opened the way for the modern movement in art. Like Beckett, all these playwrights’ works still hold the interest of audiences today.
Each time we see Beckett, we take away something different, as I did with Druid’s production. Beckett seems accessible and relevant, and always has new aspects to reveal. Beckett's work is never just a tired revival of another classic of yore.


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