My third appointment since 2004 with Samuel Beckett’s masterpiece of endless wait and dark despair (cross-references below) demonstrated succinctly how timeless and adaptable this remarkable play can be.
Seeing it last in South Korea (and entirely in Korean) marvellously demonstrated—once the essence of the script is known—just how important the director’s vision and the actors’ realization are in—like music—conveying the meaning, whether or not every word is comprehended in the language of the theatregoers.
In her program notes, director Jennifer Tarver asks, “How do we respond to atrocities, to abuse, to tyrants? How do we respond to people who are severely handicapped?”
All the audience has to do is wait and see.
To begin both acts, sound designer Jesse Ash curiously and effectively sets the tone with a Victorian Era-type solo trumpet and salon orchestra that immediately conjures up the many circus-like spectacles that lie ahead. That notion is ideally reinforced with the literal machinations from the Industrial Revolution whose grinding gears move the dance hall, overhead sphere of light around the heavens.
Like a pair of twin pillars the four principals deftly support Beckett’s intent. Estragon (superbly rendered by Stephen Ouimette, whose payoff to the play’s title quite rightly brings the house down) and Vladimir (not only note-perfect, Tom Rooney’s physical comedy skills—the hat trick is a hoot—often come to the relief of the few slow spots in the dialogue) anchor the production by exemplifying the unseen Godot’s profession: master of doing nothing. The second odd couple are equally well-skilled. Brian Dennehy delights as the pompous, bullying Pozzo in his first appearance then believably morphs into a blind (in more ways than one) dependent in the second. Literally at the end of his master’s tether, Randy Hughson mutely creates empathy as the ill-named Lucky, before delivering his famous “thinking” speech in breathtaking fashion. Rounding out the troupe (and alternating with Ethan Ioannidis), Noah Jalava turns in a sturdy reading as Boy.
As time goes on (even since 2004 before so many lost souls have given up waiting for any sort of recognition or guidance before committing horrendous acts of violence and despair), it seems more apt than ever that there is not a female presence to balance the testosterone, tyranny, cowardice, effeminacy and sexual uncertainty that fuels Beckett’s multilayered ideas and thoughts on self-discovery. Tarver more than senses this and draws out a masterful account of the twin dangers that selective memory and chronic inertia can have on our fragile human existence. Sure there are laughs aplenty, but they only help ease the pain of finding ourselves at one with many of the difficult situations that, sooner or later, befuddle all of the playwright’s wide-ranging, pathetic characters. JWR