BWW Reviews: Stratford Festival's WAITING FOR GODOT is a Must-See
Theatre-goers are going to be intrigued and delighted by Stratford Festival's production of WAITING FOR GODOT-directed by Jennifer Tarver, and featured on-stage at the Tom Patterson Theatre until September 26th. Excellent direction by Ms. Tarver, perfect set design by Teresa Przybylski and lighting design by Kimberly Purtell, and a superb cast bring to life Samuel Beckett's famous absurdist play where "nothing" is said to happen. Something certainly happens inside the Tom Patterson Theatre; however. Something magical happens, and this reviewer encourages you to check it out before the sun sets forever on this glorious and thought-provoking production.
The story exclusively takes place along a narrow path-slinking along the 'runway'-style stage at the Patterson. A bare, metallic tree sits at one end, and a small sun is moved with a loud-ish mechanical arm to denote a new dawn, and then nightfall, several times throughout the play. This methodical and robotic sun acts almost as a reminder of the mechanism that is day-to-day life, and the inevitability that each day (and each life) will end-a concept that is addressed within the play.
The play begins with two stationary figures in the darkness. One sitting face down, one standing, head pointed upwards; both seemingly waiting for the sun to rise and a new day to begin. When that day does begin, the audience sees these two men more clearly. Estrogan, played by Stephen Oiumette, is a forgetful, dishevelled voice of pessimism (with a rational air about him). The Yin to Oiumette's Yang, is Tom Rooney's Vladimir-a quirky intellectual-type, in too-small clothing, filled with a seemingly unfounded optimistic sense of hope. As the play progresses, it becomes clear that these seemingly opposite individuals are interconnected, and in reality, almost interchangeable. The audience observes as these two men interact with both humour and pathos as they wait for the mysterious Godot, who has apparently told them that he would meet them along the path. What exactly the men are wanting from Godot is not fully explained; however, they seem to suspend any decisions about what they might do next until they meet this influential stranger-which they never do.
While they wait, the two men encounter a bull-ish landowner named Pozzo (Brian Dennehy) and his sickly slave, Lucky (Randy Hughson). They meet this pair twice, finding them in drastically different conditions each time. The observations and interactions with these men, and the way those interactions change when the men are presented differently a second time, allows the audience to have a stripped-down glimpse into the human condition.
The acting tandem of Oiumette and Rooney play off each other very well, demonstrating how much these two tramps need each other to affirm their own existence. Rooney is compelling as the quirky Vladimir. The rhythm and pacing of his speech is very effective and intriguing. This play is often performed with Irish accents. This particular production is not (a fine choice because this play need not have a set location), but it is almost as if the pacing of Rooney's speech remains that of an Irishman-just without the dialect. This may be in part because of the way Beckett paced his writing, but it is also likely an acting and directing choice that is very effective, and leaves the audience hanging on Vladimir's every word. Equally as compelling is the always-excellent Stephen Oiumette as Vladimir's counterpart, Estragon-a role he first played at the festival in 1996. A slower moving, pessimistic, yet more rational and contemplative character, with an affection for poetry, Estragon often acts as the voice of reason. He also apparently struggles with his memory--frequently asking about the events of the previous day, and allowing Vladimir to remind him that they must stay at the same location until Godot arrives. Estragon's frustration with, and constant brotherly love towards Vladimir are played very well by Mr. Ouimette, allowing him to endear himself to the audience quickly.
A commanding Brian Dennehy plays the enigmatic Pozzo, a self-absorbed land owner who exploits a brilliant Randy Hughson's excruciatingly-hard-to-watch Lucky-a sickly slave with an un-specified disability (possibly Parkinson's disease?) who struggles with every breath and every step as he painfully adheres to each of his master's trivial and unnecessary demands. In the second act, Pozzo is blind and much more vulnerable, and Lucky, who dazzles the audience with a nonsensical 'stream-of-unconsciousness' monologue in the first act, is said to be a mute. Pozzo is much more dependent on Lucky in the second act, but then again, like the dynamic between Estragon and Vladimir, these two men seem almost interdependent throughout the entire play.
Time is a funny thing in this play. Though the robotic sun seems to be precise in its movements, the actual passing of time is in question. Do the two acts represent two days, or the same day repeated in an almost alternate universe? Or is time not important at all? Perhaps we are just to see these characters in conditions that they may find themselves in at some point in their lives, and the movement of the sun is only to remind us of the inevitability that days will pass and night will come, and lives will one day end. The similarity and differences between the two 'days' represented by each act, could represent the mundane and repetitive aspects of everyday life, that can seem drastically different once our own physical or mental states have changed.
In the Director's notes, we are warned that perhaps with this play, Beckett is laughing at humanity's tendency to try to find meaning in everything. Constantly searching for it in the external, and rarely looking within. Indeed this play is an intellectual puzzle and is much fun to analyze. In fact, one can find analyses by top scholars in Religion, Existentialism, Freudian Psychology, Jungian Psychology, and Political Science. This said, it is equally important to for a moment forget about how this play makes you think, and instead reflect on how it makes you feel. The pain of watching Lucky struggle to obey his master's orders and the sense of injustice over how he is treated; the human tendency to both hope beyond reason and sometimes feel a sense of hopelessness and inevitability that just cannot be shaken; the way we feel about that person in our lives who we just cannot live with, but absolutely could not exist without; the need for solitude but fear of being eternally alone; the inevitability of death, and the constant questioning of our reason for existence. These are common human experiences and all are on display in this masterful production.
And to think some say that this is a play where 'nothing happens'!
WAITING FOR GODOT is currently playing at Stratford Festival's Tom Patterson Theatre in Stratford, Ontario. It runs until September 26th.Photo Credit: Cylla von Tiedemann