“The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new.”
—Samuel Beckett, (Murphy 1938)
Let’s hope Theatre Arts Niagara makes an annual tradition of “bowler” plays: with last year’s highly successful Chaplin (cross-reference below) and now Peter Feldman’s knowing production of Waiting for Godot, the difficult art of tragicomedy is well-served in Niagara. What’s next? A Clockwork Orange?
Beckett’s brilliant script is rife with one-liners: “One of the thieves was saved. (Pause) It’s a reasonable percentage.”; “There’s a man all over for you, blaming on his boots the faults of his feet.”, and a pages-long tirade that requires as brilliant a delivery as it needs well-paced reaction from its audience. Feldman’s carefully understated staging and his cast’s spot-on timing combined for a first act that “passed the time” commendably.
From the opening struggle with his dank boot, Edwin Conroy Jr.’s portrayal of Estragon (a.k.a. Gogo) is a marvel of physical control, pace and presence. His eyes gleam with greater intensity than the oddly square moon that rises twice when the sparse set is plunged into sudden darkness as day ends. Conroy lets the slight, sexual undercurrent of his relationship with Vladimir (Jack Weiler) lurk just below the surface. Sadly, the vague stare when he admits to being beaten nightly resonates as surely now as when it was penned fifty years back.
Weiler plays well off his partner, has wonderful hat technique and personifies naïve hope as he insists they continue to wait for Godot, “What are you insinuating? That we’ve come to the wrong place?”
The arrival of Pozzo (Mac Dodge) and his man/horse servant Lucky (Steve Watson) allows the characters myriad opportunities to shade their lines, looks and actions with nearly the entire spectrum of emotions and issues that have plagued the human experience since Adam. Bondage, Master/slave, emotional rape—there’s more than can be digested in just a single sitting filled with moments such as Pozzo’s discarded chicken bone salivating the famished, love-starved Gogo.
Dodge pontificates well, shamelessly keeping his “man” under control, deriding him as pig and hog while—literally—pulling his chain. Watson gives a memorable performance as the abused—letting his pathetic dependency lead his grunts, groans and quivers. He comes near the precipice but never slips over the edge into Monty Python “coconut” parody, despite hobbling about with a similar gait.
Dawn Crysler’s set captures the notion of nowhere, its tree the focus: barren in Act I before coming to life with Act II leaves, even as both Pozzo (blind) and Lucky (dumb) lose more of their senses. As “A Boy,” Crysler delivers well, but lacks the inherent innocence that is needed to balance the perpetually inert waiters.
With such a rich and wide-ranging work, it is difficult to maintain the intensity from curtain to curtain. The second act sputtered in the early going, before gradually returning to the quality and excellence achieved prior to intermission. It was as if the emotional peak of Lucky’s rant was too much for all concerned, so they waited for the magic to return. JWR