By Ellen Wilson Dilks
“I’m like that. Either I forget right away or I never forget.”
~Estragon, “Waiting For Godot”
West Philadelphia’s Curio Theatre Company continues their current season with a production of Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting For Godot,” which runs in their Baltimore Avenue space through March 4, 2017. Directed by Dan Hodge, performances are Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 pm.
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 was premiered in London in 1955.
In “Godot we meet Vladimir and Estragon 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. Estragon (called “Gogo” by his friend) is weary because he can’t sleep. He’s also hungry… He plods through life. It is also never made clear how many times they have come to this spot to wait and where they go when they do actually leave (if they do). They can’t remember, life has become a blur. The two bicker back and forth like an old married couple—it’s never clearly stated if they are just friends or a gay couple. Not that it matters; the connection between two people over a long period of time is what’s important.
“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?”
~ Vladimir, “Waiting For Godot”
Director Hodge states in his program note that when he realized Vladimir and Estragon lived in, not bleakness, but “perpetual hope,” it broke the play open for him. This approach allowed him to see the deep humanity in “Godot” —and the humor. And humor he has found. Under Hodge’s direction, there is great wit in Beckett’s dialogue, and the actor’s bring their tremendous skills at language and physical comedy to the piece. Hodge and company give their audience an evening of wonderful comedy and beautiful insights into the human condition. They explore the indomitable nature of humans—we keep going in spite of the odds.
Curio has configured their space in the round, with a main entrance across from the tree (more of an umbrella here), with entrances on either side of the raked circle. The audience is in three tiers, and very much on top of the action. A situation that actor Brian McCann makes great use of—he is very adept at playing with those in attendance. McCann is in his element in this playground; his Vladimir is elegant, erudite and funny as hell. His long, wiry body serves him well, with each physical bit carried to the ends of his fingertips. Matching him is Curio’s Artistic Director, Paul Kuhn, whose Estragon is grumpy and, at times, dimwitted. Equally adept at physical comedy, Kuhn flings himself into the role—and about the stage. He wallows in Estragon’s misery while garnering laughs from it.
Then two wayfarers arrive: Pozzo and his servant Lucky. Robert DaPonte, in a circus ringmaster outfit, is bombastic as Pozzo. He “struts and frets his hour upon the stage,” changing tone and moods at a rapid fire pace. It’s a fascinatingly manic performance. By contrast, Harry Slack’s turn as Lucky is steady and grounded. Lucky has one speech—a long rambling monologue about life and existence; Slack meters it out perfectly, weaving his way through the non-sequiters. There is a fifth character of a Boy that appears near the end of each Act. It may or may not be the same boy; Judy Gallagher, Liam Swiggard and Isabella Walls are sharing the role.
Supporting all this is some fine technical work from Curio’s design team. As previously mentioned, Mr. Kuhn has designed the set—as always a well-thought out playing area that serves the production and pulls the audience into the total experience. Tim Martin’s lighting design is simple and subtle, evoking the right mood. Kyle Yackoski has created an eerie soundscape that helps give one a sense of a desolated place. Aetna Gallagher has provided the wonderfully disheveled costumes for Vladimir, Estragon and Lucky, as well as Pozzo’s aforementioned snazzy ensemble.
“Estragon: we lost our rights?
Vladimir: we got rid of them.”
“Waiting For Godot” has been dissected by scholars for six plus decades now. There are volumes of analysis about its meaning. 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 happened to thoroughly enjoy Curio’s vaudevillian approach to it. There was humor, but Hodge and company found the tender moments, the desperate ones as well. The question posed (to me) is: 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?
I encourage you to head to West Philly to see what you can find in the wonderful production.
If you go: Curio performs at the Calvary Center for Culture and Community, located at 4740 Baltimore Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19143. For information regarding tickets, directions, etc., visit www.curiotheatre.org or call the Box Office at 215-525-1350.