Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Waiting for Godot Review


I had the great pleasure of attending my first Broadway play last week. It was Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart in Waiting for Godot, which commanded the sort of cast I’m told you don’t usually get even in New York City. Thanks so much to Ross Dillon and Max Cantor for having me along with them, I, some Philistine who wasn’t sure Broadway was even a real place. It turns out is a place, like a lot of New York City, that exchanged the sky for glowing billboards, making it a fine place to watch two great actors ask each other if life is really happening.

Vladimir and Estragon.
It was a wonderful production. Shuler Hensley played Pozzo as a hooting Texan, which I’d never imagined and immediately adored. Billy Crudup rounded out the cast and completely nailed the role of Lucky, from his weary swaying to that impossible monologue on everything and nothing. There came a point when, as an exhausted Pozzo prepares to leave, Lucky took on a knowing expression and caressed his chin in a way I can scarcely believe they got to work on stage, with Crudup blocking so much of our view and facing away, and yet sharing his expression with a crowd behind him. That’s the level of craft the foursome brought to the play.

Shame on me for my highlight coming out of the non-superstars, but McKellen and Stewart were as sterling as you’d expect. McKellen is the more versatile performer, and here played Estragon with so many senile and demented notes, all with the weight of immense age, that reminded me keenly of my grandfather’s final years. Even gestural suggestions of senility were perfect for Waiting for Godot, and particularly for Estragon, who has to forget so much of what’s allegedly happened in front of us. It detracts from my reading of the play as raw nonsense, deliberately eschewing its own continuity to make points about post-modernism, and yet it fits to humanize the material. I love when good actors read material differently than I do. Art isn’t worth it if we all agree. Then it becomes Heinz ketchup.

Also, I love Heinz ketchup.


Vladimir and Estragon.

McKellen got me thinking about other interpretations of the work, and inspired a vision that can never be: Waiting for Adventure Time. The cartoon is often absurd, but that’s a credential for this kind of mash-up, and is so often about exactly the kind of baffling logic that, here, Vladimir is infuriated with for not working. On the subway ride out, I pitched it to Ross and Max, with Finn as Vladimir and Jake as Estragon, and likely animated by the same crew. They won’t even have to switch backgrounds. Any number of Adventure Time voice actors would fit Pozzo, while if we’re going to get anyone to do Lucky’s monologue, it’s got to be Lady Rainicorn running it in Korean.

The play has that elemental nonsense about it, that honestly does remind me of Adventure Time. Adventure Time follows a contrived internal logic, something unreasonable and that children don’t know isn’t acceptable yet. Waiting for Godot is about a grown man’s inability to deal with that lack illogic. An easy highlight of the show was arguing with my friends over its potential meanings as we were stuck in the stairwell trying to exit the theatre.

Vladimir and Estragon.

And no comparison I make can render me guilty. No, sir and madame, every inane thing I think about Waiting for Godot was made to lofty after the lights in the theatre came up and a woman sitting two rows behind us asked, “Why were they waiting for him?”

That’s another highlight right there. You can get angry, or despair, or relish in gifts like those.

11 comments:

  1. Lucky you. I wanted to see this so bad but couldn't make it to NY. And I was really enjoying your review until I got to this:

    "raw nonsense, deliberately eschewing its own continuity to make points about post-modernism"

    What does that even mean? I would have found the woman who asked why they were waiting funny too, but I suspect for very different reasons than you.

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    1. I presume you've read or seen the play, Mark? It can't go pages without dumping what it's done. The boy doesn't remember Vladimir, Estragon doesn't remember his problem with the shoes and then finds shoes that ought to be his but fit him in the way his didn't, Pozzo and Lucky are entirely different characters upon their second appearance, etc. The play refuses to make sense of itself and deliberately goes against continuity.

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    2. Are you saying that a work of art must "make sense of itself" and have "continuity"? Why? One could easily argue that a work that does not have these things is more realistic, more like life as it is lived. And there are readers who value this sort of work.

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    3. No, I'm not saying that at all, Mark, which is why the review is so positive and I want to see further productions of the play that accentuate that element of it (see Para5 and 6). I love nonsensical art.

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  2. Oh how I wish I could have seen it. And how I wish a friend of ours, who can (and does) recite great slabs of Waiting for Godot could have been there too.

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    1. I need more friends who can do that!

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  3. I have Broadway-envy. It's something I am sorry to say I have never experienced. And what an excellent production to be your first. Sounds like it was magic.

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  4. Yeah, count me in as one of the totally jealous types.

    My brother Rob (three years my junior) was loaned a copy of WFG by his Grade 6 teacher, who simply said, "Here. You'll think this is funny." He did.

    Three years later I took it in a senior high school English class. I wad doing my homework at the kitchen table and Rob spotted my school copy. "We're waiting for Godot," he said, and started giggling.

    The next day there was a mini-insurrection in my class as students claimed the play either made no sense or was too difficult for high school. I piped up and mentioned my younger brother read it when he was ten and loved it, and I was finding I liked it for the same reasons he did. That didn't exactly gain me any points with my peers, but by them I had nothing to lose anyhow. Besides, it shut them up.

    As I said before, I've never got to see it performed, not even when my drama-class friends did it in university. Given how the play goes, maybe that's how it's supposed to be. My one friend who was in it can barely remember being in it.

    But oh, what a cast for the production you saw. If only they'd bring it to Toronto.

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  5. Wow. Sounds like a lot of fun. I am jealous!

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  6. Sounds like fun. When I took my wife to Broadway, we went to Suessical. (Nonsensical art of a different nature.)

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  7. That's great that you had the experience of attending a Broadway play. I've seen a Broadway musical before, and yes, Broadway does exist. Being immersed in it at times is like being part of a unique alternative universe.

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