“Nothing to be done.” So begins Samuel Beckett’s theater of the absurd, where the characters dither and fumble in a blind vacuum as they hope in vain for their existences to be validated.
A new production of the canonical “Waiting for Godot,” directed by Patrick Madden ’15, opens tonight in the Production Workshop Downspace. For such a widely performed work (it’s currently running on Broadway with Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Patrick Stewart), Madden’s take hits close to home. Swinging from idealistic to cynical, arrogant to self-loathing, Vladimir, Estragon, and friends embody the near-constant identity crisis college students know all too well.
The entire play takes place near a crooked, skeletal tree on the country roadside. The stage is an elongated platform covered with sand, which adds an interesting element of realism. It swirls up in dust clouds when the characters get rambunctious, and trickles out from sleeves and pockets as though it’s slipping through an hourglass. A pile of cinderblocks replaces the “low mound” in Beckett’s script, hinting not at nature but at urban decay.
Fortunately, the actors’ lively interpretations of their roles prevents audiences from descending into an existential tailspin. Samuel Lanier ’15.5 is a comic highlight as Pozzo, swaggering onstage with the glib egomania of a political fat cat or Will Arnett in Arrested Development. Even Benjamin Silver’s ’17 supporting role as Boy feels more three-dimensional than its title would suggest. But perhaps the climactic moment of the play is Fletcher Bell’s ’16 volcanic, almost psychotic recitation of Lucky’s monologue — “tennis of all kinds!”
The rapport between Estragon and Vladimir, played respectively by Vincent Tomasino ’14 and Skylar Fox ’15, seems improbable at first, even awkward. But as their purgatorial world unfolds, the audience will begin to access the symbiosis between Estragon’s scruffy indolence and Vladimir’s nervous intellectualism. Like the proverbial old married couple, they bicker nonsensically about pedantic nothings, cycle through slapstick vaudeville routines and sing each other to sleep. They shift gears from clowns to poets with startling versatility and control as they wait…and wait…and wait.
There’s nothing to be done, but it will definitely pass the time.
Image via Ryan Walsh ’17.