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Review Roundup: NO MAN'S LAND & WAITING FOR GODOT Open on Broadway - All the Reviews!

The Broadway repertory season of Harold Pinter¹s NO MAN¹S LAND and Samuel Beckett¹s WAITING FOR GODOT opens today, November 24. Starring Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Billy Crudup and Shuler Hensley and directed by Sean Mathias, this limited engagement repertory season plays through Sunday, March 2 at the Cort Theatre (138 West 48th Street).

Designs for the productions include sets and costumes by Stephen Brimson Lewis (twice Tony-nominated for Indiscretions), lighting by Peter Kaczorowski (a Tony Award winner for Contact and The Producers) sound and music by Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen (Breakfast At Tiffany¹s), projections by Zachary Borovay (Ann) and hair and make-up by Tom Watson (The Assembled Parties).

Let's see what the critics had to say...

Michael Dale, BroadwayWorld: "Director Sean Mathias and his talented quartet of actors (they are billed above the title alphabetically as Billy Crudup, Shuler Hensley, Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart) do lovely service to both of them. No big bangs and whistles at the Cort Theatre; just a solidly acted pair of straightforward mountings that, despite all the attention paid to the two more famously named stage artists, serve the playwrights very well...Though the production comes to town as a star-vehicle event attracting fans of Stewart's and McKellen's blockbuster film and television work, those in the know recognize them as impeccable stage artists (Crudup and Hensley ain't no slouches in that respect either) who display intelligent craft and commitment in contrasting pieces. There is certainly no ambiguity about that."

Ben Brantley, The New York Times: "... as directed by Sean Mathias, with sturdy supporting performances by Billy Crudup and Shuler Hensley, these productions find the pure entertainment value in existential emptiness. I have never before heard American audiences respond to any production of Pinter or Beckett with such warm and embracing laughter...Now, if you'll allow me (and it will only sting a second), I'm going to offer one major caveat regarding two improbably pleasurable shows. Mr. Mathias's productions seldom give full value to the deep mortal chill of these plays, of the fraught dangers in Pinter's universe or the aching pathos within Beckett's. Ideally, you should leave "No Man's Land" and "Godot" with a shiver as well as a smile. These productions mostly stay, comfortably and tantalizingly, on the surface. But in doing so, they also bring out the beguiling polish and shimmer in Pinter and Beckett's language...Only the sourest theatergoers will begrudge themselves the joy that Mr. McKellen and Mr. Stewart derive and impart from embodying this contradiction. These shows are an irresistible celebration of two actors' love affairs with their scripts.

Elysa Gardner, USA Today: "As played by Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart, Beckett's iconic hobos suggest two old vaudevillians, well past their prime but not incapable of recapturing that old magic... [in GODOT] the leading men are as haunting as they are amusing. McKellen's withered but still-mischievous Estragon watches as his companion's ludicrous faith is repeatedly tested. By the time the other duo makes its second and final appearance - the flamboyant bravado of Hensley's Pozzo now broken - the spryness of Stewart's Vladimir is fading to a sort of desperate defiance, inspiring a moving tenderness in his partner...this Land captures the mesmerizing, inextricable brutality and humor of Pinter's dialogue far more potently than the starry but stiff Betrayal running a block away. Both Land and Godot, in fact, prove that the most challenging and unsettling material can make for accessible, even buoyant, entertainment.

Jesse Green, Vulture: "Since the action of No Man's Land consists mostly of drinking, the slipperiness of identity may have a physiological basis. Of course, this being Pinter, there's external menace as well. Two slimy men who live in Hirst's house-played by Shuler Hensley and Billy Crudup-are sometimes said to be family, sometimes paid caretakers, but mostly seem like enforcers, procurers, or (in Crudup's case) a rent boy. (Crudup gives this past-prime peacock a wonderfully moronic little giggle.)...For if No Man's Land is self-consciously meta-theatrical, Godot doesn't even bother with the meta. It's vaudeville...And, at least on the basis of these very fine productions, one has to conclude that No Man's Land is becoming a period piece while Godot, twenty years older, is not. Oddly enough, it's McKellen, superb as he is, who most brings this out. As an openly gay man involved in a famous geezer bromance with Stewart (he officiated at Stewart's wedding in September), he raises the ante, just by being there, on the plays' homoeroticism. This enhances the Beckett and reveals flaws in the Pinter. In No Man's Land, as in Pinter's Betrayal and The Homecoming, the hint of gayness is a coded threat, suggesting evil and otherness; this only makes sense in a world of rigid homophobia. (Otherwise, as here, it reads as coy.) In Godot, on the other hand, the companionship between two men, with its many marital allusions, is taken for granted. I'm not saying Vladimir and Estragon are gay; I'm saying the play doesn't care if they are. And that feels modern."

Robert Hofler, The Wrap: "For sheer laughs per minute, these two stars deliver the goods as if they were instead performing a farce by Alan Ayckbourn or Christopher Durang. And while that light touch works for "Godot," it ultimately becomes a distraction in "No Man's Land"...[in GODOT] McKellen and Stewart are a very carefully orchestration study in contrasts here. As Estragon, Stewart is staccato and all sharp edges, his dome almost polished to a point on top. McKellen, on the other hand, seems to be sprouting hair everywhere to the point of looking furry, if not fuzzy...McKellen mines laughs in "No Man's Land" where none exist...Stewart gives a fascinatingly curious performance. With just a bit more vibrato, he could be channeling John Gielgud, who played Spooner, not Hirst, in the original production of "No Man's Land." Stewart's gray-blond wig even resembles the one Gielgud wore in the BBC taping of the play."

David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: "Sean Mathias redeems himself for the misstep of Breakfast at Tiffany's on this same Broadway stage last season with his tight direction of the ensemble here. In addition to McKellen and Stewart, whose stage chemistry is scintillating, the cast of both plays includes Billy Crudup, nailing radically different roles, and Shuler Hensley. For audiences drawn by the star names, the discovery of New York theater stalwart Hensley will be an additional reward...both plays belong to Stewart and especially McKellen. Aloof in the Pinter role and benign in the Beckett, Stewart can shift from dryly dignified to pathetic within a single sentence, finding surprise moments of humor and poignancy. But it's McKellen whose inventive line readings are most ideally paired with two playwrights known for their idiosyncratic use of language. What's more, his effortless physicality - a drunken lurch across the room, a whimsical little dance step, a crumpled fold of his body into a messy heap - makes every minute he's onstage mesmerizing."

Linda Winer, Newsday: "Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart, lifelong staples of the British theater, have become famous -- rock-star famous -- as characters in Hollywood blockbusters. In a lovely turn of karmic payback, the men are extending their pop-culture magnetism to the altogether unlikely but dazzling masters of 20th century drama Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter. And what a treat this is. Both actors, neither one immune to the lure of excess showmanship, are terrific -- stylish, disciplined, strikingly different -- in Sean Mathias' repertory stagings of Beckett's familiar 1953 masterwork, "Waiting for Godot," and Pinter's more rare, chilling and opaque "No Man's Land...The men, gloriously, fill the boredom and the suffering with amusing routines and desperate thoughts -- you know, just like life. As Estragon says, "Maybe this will give us the impression we exist." With Pinter as well as Beckett, they certainly do."

Thom Geier, Entertainment Weekly: "Perhaps it's not surprising that the play loses a smidge of its luster with the arrival of the bullwhip-wielding Pozzo (Shuler Hensley, deploying a curious Foghorn Leghorn-like voice) and his woebegone servant, Lucky (Billy Crudup). They turn in solidly professional performances, efficiently directed by Sean Mathias, but pale in comparison to their illustrious costars. (Crudup too must act in the long shadow of John Glover's revelatory turn as Lucky in the 2009 Broadway revival starring Nathan Lane and Bill Irwin.)...In both plays, McKellen and Stewart deliver a master class in acting that seems to echo Beckett and Pinter's underlying theme: the struggle of men against the challenge and inevitability of death. By their age-defying enthusiasm, the seventysomething stars manage the tricky feat of making challenging material engaging, fun, and ultimately life-affirming. The ease of their companionship is almost infectious, elevating these productions to the sublime.

Mark Kennedy, Associated Press: "Each play, performed here with the same four actors under the brilliant direction of Sean Mathias, has bedeviled interpretation for generations. Putting them together in repertory sparks connections, even if the inevitable questions multiply...It's a mark of how stunning a cast has been assembled that the two supporting actors - Billy Crudup and Shuler Hensley - each have Tony Awards. The plays may not always be your cup of tea - filled with spare language, ambiguity, unreliability and disintegration - but there can be no complaints about the service."

Robert Kahn, NBC New York: "Though written decades apart, the connecting tissue between "No Man's Land" and "Waiting for Godot" is that their central characters are trapped, yet don't do anything to escape their situations. The two pieces are explorations of aging and friendship, and the unreliability of memory. If you can possibly relate to such notions -- you can, of course -- then Stewart and McKellen make for trustworthy guides through the murky postmodern territory carved out by Harold Pinter and Samuel Beckett, respectively...McKellen and Stewart's joyous pairing is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see and hear these two knights of the theater clown and caper and kvetch their way through what's been called the most significant play in the English language."

Joe Dziemianowicz, Daily News: "The vintage purgatory tales, performed in repertory under the direction of Sean Mathias, are unapologetically enigmatic. But amid Pinter's elliptical storytelling and pregnant pauses and Beckett's existential mystery, ideas about power, class, memory and mortality get your gray matter buzzing."

Elisabeth Vincentelli, NY Post: "Yet every time you start thinking you're watching two homeless men argue, the ever-expressive McKellen pulls out another trick: Just look at the way he gnaws on a carrot, or his desperate soft-shoe shuffle. Who wouldn't want the privilege of watching him in action?"

Robert Feldberg, "Although not as dramatically potent as Pinter's similarly plotted "The Caretaker," the play, like "Godot," gives two commanding performers an opportunity to provide a master class in acting. They're a treat."

Brendan Lemon, Financial Times: "For the past month, New York has been awash in Beckett and Pinter, brought to us by Great English Actors. None of these productions has represented the performers at their peak. Case in point: when Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart did their new-to-Broadway production of Waiting for Godot in London, in 2010, they harvested acclaim for the freshness of their clowning. But, as with many London theatrical exports arriving on American shores, the routines now seem so worked-out they're stiff. No Man's Land, Pinter's 1975 drama about two elderly literary men in Hampstead, which is playing in rep with Godot, exhibits similar tendencies."

Matt Windman, amNY: "While it was a marvelous idea to pair up Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen as the quintessential tramps Vladimir and Estragon in "Waiting for Godot," this revival of Beckett's existentialist classic is weighed down by Sean Mathias' problematic direction and the decision to perform it in repertory with Harold Pinter's 1975 drama "No Man's Land.""

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