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A CurtainUp Review
Waiting for Godot


Was I sleeping, while the others suffered? Am I sleeping now? Tomorrow, when I wake, or think I do, what shall I say of today? That with Estragon my friend, at this place, until the fall of night, I waited for Godot? That Pozzo passed, with his carrier, and that he spoke to us? Probably. But in all that what truth will there be?— Vladimir.
Waiting for Godot
Nathan Lane & Bill Irwin
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
  Perhaps the most exciting experience in a theater is when an actor’s performance reveals something about his character or the play that was never clear before. This is exactly what happened to me when I saw Roundabout’s new production of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, directed by Anthony Page.

The experience, however, did not come with the performances of Nathan Lane as Estragon or Bill Irwin as Vladimir. Although the two theater veterans are excellent clowns with perfect timing, it was not until Vladimir’s wonderfully poetic final speech that his character lets the audience taste the tragic nature of the clown’s (and humanity’s) predicament. Rather it was John Goodman’s magnificent portrayal of the overbearing Pozzo driving the hapless Lucky (the impressive John Glover) that not only gave insight into the play’s tragic view of life, but also made me realize how essential the role of Pozzo is to Beckett’s bleak vision of human existence.

Pozzo and Lucky appear twice in the play, interrupting Estragon and Vladimir’s patter about hurt feet, the need to urinate and the most important issue — whether or not the mysterious Godot will finally come and, like the Messiah, solve all their problems and make the world livable. The first time Pozzo is in total control. He reminds one of a wealthy capitalist, proud of his accomplishments and sure of his power. But he needs Lucky to think for him, something Glover does so well that Lucky’s nonsensical speech actually makes a kind of existential sense. The second time, Pozzo is blind and pitiful. He is led by an even more diminished Lucky.

What made these two scenes so enthralling was the way Goodman, a large man perfectly cast, shows how weak and dependent Pozzo really is. Clearly Pozzo, with all his pomposity, is more like most of us than the abject Estragon and Vladimir. Without Pozzo and Lucky Waiting for Godot might be confused with a comedy (something this production often comes close to). With them it becomes an existential tragedy.

Santo Loquasto’s barren set with its lonely tree (perfect for hanging a man, something the two tramps spend some time speculating on) is an apt visualization of Beckett’s bleak world. The dark, dirty browns and grays of the tramps’ bedraggled clothing make the tramps seem like outgrowths of their environment.

Waiting for Godot has not been seen on Broadway since 1957 when Herbert Berghof directed Earle Hyman as Vladimir and Mantan Moreland and Estragon. Never a crowd-pleaser, even the original, with the formidable team of Bert Lahr as Estragon and E.G. Marshall as Vladimir, only had a total of 60 performances. But without it and its author there would be no Harold Pinter, Tom Stoppard, Sam Shepard, or the dozens of off off-Broadway playwrights hoping to become the next Beckett.

Under Page’s direction, this Waiting for Godot is certainly the most entertaining I have ever seen. Fans of Abbot and Costello will see traces of the team’s best work in Lane and Irwin. But for me, a better model might have been Charlie Chaplin’s forlorn tramp, the little man whose scheming always fails and love is seldom requited. And, even if this production is somewhat off-track for me, it nevertheless provides a valuable path to Beckett’s work.

Editor's Note: Like Paulanne I thought this one of the more entertaining versions of this seminal plays I've ever seen. And I agree that Goodman and Glover are magnificent. I was impressed by Lane's restraint as the more melancholy of the two tramps. While both he and Irwin hardly underplayed the humor, I did think that the scene in which Vladimir covers the sleeping Estragon' with his coat poignantly conveyd their loving dependency on each other, quite a different co-dependency from that between Pozzo and the symbolically named Lucky.

As Paulanne pointed out this play is a rare event on Broadway but it's had it's share of regional productions. Variations in casting include an all-black cast at the Classical Theater of Harlem (our review). Different interpretations prove that as the humor can be too much emphasized for some tastes, it can also be too underplayed as it was s in a 2005 Off-Broadway (our review). A Godot mounted in the Berkshire Theatre Festival's intimate Unicorn theater used Beckett's references to the presence of the audience in jos original script interest as an interpretive guideline (review)

Clearly there are many ways to wait for Godot. —Elyse Sommer
Waiting for Godot
By Samuel Beckett
Directed by Anthony Page
Cast: Nathan Lane (Estragon), Bill Irwin (Vladimir), John Goodman (Pozzo), John Glover (Lucky), Cameron Clifford/Matthew Schechter (A Boy)
Set Design: Santo Loquasto
Costume Design: Jane Greenwood
Lighting Design: Peter Kaczorowski
Sound Design: Dan Moses Schreier
Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes, with one intermission
Roundabout Theatre Company at Studio 54 254 West 54th Street (212) 719-1300 www.roundabouttheatre.org
From 4/05/09; opening 4/30/09; closing 7/12/09 Tuesday through Saturday evening at 8:00 p.m. with Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2:00 p.m.
Tickets: $36.50-$116.50
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons May 1, 2009
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