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A CurtainUp Review
Waiting for Godot
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.