By Ellen Wilson Dilks
“So, we keep waiting (waiting)
Waiting on the world to change”
~ John Mayer
Quintessence Theatre Group in Mt. Airy continues a successful season (their 8th) with a mounting of the absurdist play, Waiting For Godot by Samuel Beckett. Directed by Ken Marini, the production runs now through February 18th, with performances in the evenings Wednesdays through Saturdays. Sunday matinees are at 3pm. The Group is located at the historic Sedgewick Theater on Germantown Avenue.
Samuel Beckett was born in a suburb of Dublin in 1906, and lived (primarily in Paris) until 1989. He was active in the French Resistance during World War II, which influenced his writing to a degree. His work gives the reader/viewer a tragi-comic outlook on human existence; he often coupled this bleakness with offbeat black comedy. Beckett, considered one of the last modernist writers, became more and more minimalistic in his later works—very much on display in WAITING FOR GODOT. He is one of the key figures in what Martin Esslin called the “Theatre of the Absurd.” GODOT is Beckett’s seminal piece, and is considered one of the 20th century’s most significant theatrical works. The original French text was composed between October of 1948 and January of 1949. The première was on January 5, 1953 in the Théâtre de Babylone, Paris. The English language version premiered in London in 1955.
“I’m like that. Either I forget right away or I never forget.”
In GODOT, we meet Estragon and Vladimir (60 years into their friendship) on a deserted road that runs through a bleak landscape—the only thing present is a tree that, most likely, is dead. Vladimir (or “Didi,” as Estragon calls him) waxes philosophically as the two wait for the elusive Godot—who never shows. It is never revealed how many times they have come to this spot to wait—they can’t remember. Nor is it determined where they go when they are not on the bleak country road. Their days have melded one into the other in a blur of time. Bickering like an old married couple one minute and then helping each other with various ailments and hurts, the two continue to come to this desolate spot and wait. Why?
“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?”
In the program note, director Marini states he’s come to a very different feeling about Godot from the first time he directed it in 1986 at People’s Light & Theatre (of which he was a co-founder). He says his first production was too cerebral. “I was too young to really get it then. We all were.” Now when asked what he feels the core element of the play is, he states emphatically “Relationships.” Which is clear to see as you watch the play unfold. There is the tangled relationship between Vladimir and Estragon, and the toxic one between Pozzo and Lucky. Marini subtly lets each of these complex pairings come to light slowly and clearly.
And the cast he has assembled to tell this many-faceted story is indubitably up to the task. As Pozzo, the man who supposedly owns the land whereon Gogo and Didi are waiting, is played to the hilt by Gregory Isaac. Isaac has created a smarmy, narcissist who somehow manages to charm you once in a while. Not an easy task. J. Hernandez is compellingly downtrodden (and a little bit creepy) as the enslaved Lucky. Hernandez must portray everything through his body; Lucky only has one speech—when Pozzo tells him to “think.” Hernandez dives full force into a long twisting monologue that grabs the listener by the you-know-whats. As the young boy who comes to give Didi and Gogo a message from Godot, Lyam David-Kilker (12) makes an impressive professional debut.
Seasoned vets Frank X and Johnnie Hobbs, Jr. embody Estragon and Vladimir. Frank X is compelling as a tired man who seems overwhelmed by how his life has turned out. There is a deep love and respect for his character; he skillfully let’s the performance come forth is the truest and most natural way. Hobbs matches him perfectly in depth, bit by bit revealing the many aspects of Vladimir’s character. And touching our hearts.
“Estragon: we lost our rights?
Vladimir: we got rid of them.”
Marini has incorporated elements of clowning/vaudeville in his production, engaging local clown Angie Foster as a consultant. The comedic physical bits attest to her abilities as well as those of the actors. The director’s fluid staging is played out on a great set by James F. Pyne, Jr. that deftly portrays the desolation of the locale. John Burkland has provided a subtle, but supportive lighting design, while the fight choreography has been nicely executed by J. Alex Cordera. The interesting costumes (dirt and all) were created by Jane Casanave, with dance advice provided by Janet Pilla Marini.
For over six decades, scholars have dissected WAITING FOR GODOT. There are treatises galore analyzing its meaning, looking for hidden messages. Beckett himself repeatedly insisted it was just a story, and that we were reading too much into it. He insisted that: “…all I know was in the text …if I had known more I would have put it in the text…” The “bareness” of the script has opened the piece to a multitude of interpretations. I did find myself thinking about how much waiting we do in our lives—and how it’s kind of a lost art due to iPhones. People don’t have to spend time in observation of their fellow man, or get lost in thought—they’ve got the world in the palm of their hands. Another thought I have had regarding GODOT: Is it a play about nothing (a la Seinfeld), or is it about two souls looking for validation that they lived, that they will be remembered after they’re gone? After all, don’t we all want that?
If You Go: Quintessence Theatre Group performs at the Sedgewick Theater, located at 7137 Germantown Avenue in the Mt. Airy section of Philadelphia. Performances run Wednesday to Saturday evenings, with matinees on Sundays—check their website for times. The theatre is handicapped accessible, and there is a municipal parking lot (metered) across the street. The Box Office can be reached at 215-987-4450 and the theatre’s website is www.quintessencetheatre.org