Review by Ellen S. Jaffe
I attended this performance with a friend who acted in the play in university; he says that, even after many years, he still discovers new meanings.Soulpepper’s current production of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, directed by Daniel Brooks, is well worth seeing, both for people, like me, who love the play, have seen it several times, and enjoy noting the variations in production, and for new audiences. It is a play that needs to be experienced, rather than understood intellectually. Each production shows me a new facet of the play, as well as recalling familiar lines and actions.
Beckett (1906-1989), an Irish writer who lived in France most of his adult life, wrote this play, a “tragi-comedy,” in 1948-49, shortly after World War II, in which he was active in the French Resistance. It was the first of his plays, though he had already written novels and poetry. He wrote it in French (En Attendant Godot), and translated it into English himself. In its first Broadway production, Bert Lahr and Zero Mostel played the two wandering tramps, Vladimir (Didi) and Estragon (Gogo), showing the importance of the comic aspect of this play; how laughter helps us survive and gives us hope, in the face of despair and uncertainty (a condition that certainly existed after the war).
In this production, Diego Matamoros as Vladimir and Oliver Dennis as Estragon create a very accessible duo. As the script indicates, they have been companions for over 50 years – yet somehow each day is both new and the same: they are passing the time, “waiting for Godot,” who promises to arrive “tomorrow.” Critic Vivian Mercier wrote that Beckett “has achieved a theoretical impossibility—a play in which nothing happens, that yet keeps audiences glued to their seats…”
Vladimir and Estragon have a caring relationship, sometimes seen in comic, even slapstick actions as when Vladimir helps Estragon take off his tight boots, or when Estragon demands a carrot instead of a turnip. There are also poetic lines, as when they talk about the voices of the dead, or when Estragon, noting that the single tree in their landscape has no leaves, says, “No more weeping.” They bicker, banter, insult each other, remember and forget, turn away, then return for another embrace. They are physical beings, , individual characters in their own right; also, as Vladimir says, “at this place, at this time, all mankind is us.” Estragon is more earthy; Vladimir more of the thinker, but they need each other.
Their relationship contrasts clearly with “master” Pozzo, played by Rick Roberts, and his servant/slave Lucky, Alex McCooeye, when these characters enter the scene. Roberts portrays Pozzo, with self-centered, heartless intensity. McCooeye’s Lucky is pitiable, grotesque, but also dignified; his speech when he is told to “think” is a masterful delivery of ideas and non-sequitors, and his movements are beautifully choreographed. In the second act, we see how the master/slave relationship destroys itself – Pozzo becomes blind and Lucky mute., Vladimir and Estragon, however, continue to stay alive, stay friends, and, “in this immense confusion,” keep their appointment. Richie Lawrence plays the messenger Boy in an engaging way, full of feeling.
Beckett described the set he wanted in five words: “A country road. A tree.” In this production, however, Lorenzo Savoini, set designer, changes the scene; he created slanting walls that suggest an open room or courtyard with a wooden floor, one tree oddly appearing, walls covered with graffiti, or outlines of more trees. This did not work for me. I think — and the script indicates — that the characters need to be outside, on the road, not even partially enclosed by a man-made structure. It would be interesting to know the concept behind this set. Kevin Lamotte’s lighting also seems a bit “warm” for the nature of the play. Michelle Tracey’s costumes give the right tone to the characters.
Is Godot God? Beckett said no, but could see the implications. It is too large a question to discuss here. (In this production, the name is pronounced GOD-oh; an alternate pronunciation is god-OH, which apparently Beckett did not like. French pronunciation gives equal weight to each syllable: god-oh.) If you love theatre, this is a play to see and get to know.
Waiting for Godot is at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts through Oct.14th