Tom Rooney (left) as Vladimir, Brian Dennehy as Pozzo and Stephen Ouimette as Estragon. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.
Reviewed by James Karas
Waiting for Godot is accepted as a game changer and a masterpiece of the modern theatre, which means there are people who adore it and those who snooze through it. The Stratford Festival’s production at the Tom Patterson Theatre is very good and everyone should have enjoyed it but unfortunately there were a few who did not return after the intermission or yawned a bit too much at the end.
Director Jennifer Tarver presents a sensitive and detailed reading that gives one a stunning impression of what they play may mean. Nothing happens in Waiting for Godot, they say, but we do get Beckett’s bleak view of civilization, if there is any. There is plenty of void and Beckett attempts the impossible task of capturing that void or the idea of that void.
The cast is very strong. Stephen Ouimette (Estragon) and Tom Rooney (Vladimir) play the two tramps. Rooney is a lean Vladimir in a bowler hat who is quite agile. Ouimette is more portly and scruffy as the cynical and tired Estragon.
Brian Dennehy is the tyrannical and psychotic Pozzo who wants to sell his slave Lucky. The slightly stooped, deep-voiced Dennehy exudes both menace and insanity. Pozzo and his slave are passing through from somewhere to somewhere (more likely, from nowhere to nowhere) while Vladimir and Estragon are waiting in the middle of nowhere for someone who is supposed to save them from something if he exists.
Randy Hughson plays the slave Lucky and even with only a few lines to speak he has a tough job. He is abused by Pozzo and he must strike poses, “dance” and cater to his owner’s psychotic whims. A very good performance by Hughson.
Waiting for Godot can be very funny but Tarver seems to have chosen a more sedate reading. There are a few laughs when the characters make some remarks but there is apparently no attempt by Tarver to emphasize or exploit the clownish part of the tramps. They satirize their own situation and their ridiculously extraordinary position where they cannot even commit suicide. There is more room for dark humour than Tarver chose to use. Creating more laughs may be used as a method to reduce yawning by hoi polloi but it also an appropriate approach to the play.
The theatre-in-the-round Tom Patterson is well suited for the play. Designer Teresa Przybylski places a curving road across the stage with the leafless tree and that is all the set that we need.
The meaning of the play and the world that it reflects are matters for scholars to debate. For the theatre goer, the impression of the world that Beckett paints is unforgettable and highly effective. When it comes to understanding a work of art, I like to go back to prima ballerina Pavlova who, after a great performance, was asked what “it meant.” Her reply is suitable in many situations. “If I could have said it, I wouldn’t have danced it.”
If you approach Waiting for Godot in that spirit and with that attitude you are less likely to find it difficult to comprehend and, on the contrary, you will wait for the next production so you can grasp a few more nuggets of gold. You may not be able to describe the experience but you will feel it in your bones which is much better.______
Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett opened on June 27 and will run in repertory until September 20, 2013 at the Tom Patterson Theatre, Stratford, Ontario. www.stratfordfestival.ca