Monday, May 4, 2009

Waiting for Godot

It’s funny how middle age can make existentialism seem more real. When I first encountered Waiting for Godot in college, I thought it was fascinating in an otherworldly kind of way. I had plenty of the optimism of youth and to me Samuel Beckett’s rather bleak creation reflected the thoughts of a negative writer, interesting only on an intellectual level.

Now, though, watching the Roundabout Theatre Company's Broadway revival of Godot at Studio 54, I realized Beckett wasn’t just a negative man with a miserable outlook. He had simply lived longer.

This is not to say that I’m wholeheartedly into the “nothing to be done” mode of thinking, but the play makes more sense to me than it did three decades ago. And I can say this even though I had problems with some elements of this production, which is directed by Anthony Page.

Having read Waiting for Godot, which many consider to be the most important play of the 20th century, several times at different stages of my life but never having seen it, I was able to approach it openly, without having another effort in mind for comparison. I couldn’t, though, buy into Nathan Lane (in photo left) as Estragon because in every physical and comic scene the only voice I could hear was that of Max Bialystock, the sleazy character from Mel Brooks’ The Producers, for which Lane won a Tony.

I also was bothered by Santo Loquasto’s set, which resembles a road through the mountains. Beckett’s directions are stark: “A country road. A tree. Evening.” I had always envisioned a barren stage, more of a wasteland. This landscape looks arid, but not particularly dreary. Actually it seemed more of an ascetic spot, a place for meditation and contemplation. Perhaps this is part of why the play seemed more realistic and not just because of my own accumulated experiences of life’s darkness.

Beckett’s absurdist “tragicomedy,” first performed in 1953, is about waiting -- the two main characters, Vladimir (Bill Irwin, in photo right) and Estragon, are tramps waiting for some mysterious man named Godot, in this production pronounced God-oh instead of the Go-doh I have always heard. Godot never comes, although a little boy (Cameron Clifford alternating performances with Matthew Schechter) arrives each evening to tell them that Godot isn’t coming that day but will come tomorrow. This can symbolize either hopelessness or, by the fact that they keep returning to wait, hopefulness. “We have kept our appointment and that’s an end to that,” Vladimir says. “We are not saints, but we have kept our appointment. How many people can boast as much?”

As for the other performers, Irwin, John Goodman as Pozzo and John Glover as Lucky were in keeping with my expectations. (Friend Tony Newfield is understudying Vladimir and Lucky.) The creative team includes Jane Greenwood (costumes), Peter Kaczorowski (lights), Tom Watson (hair and wig design), Thomas Schall (fight director) and Dan Moses Schreier (sound).

Tickets for Waiting for Godot, which has just been extended a week through July 12, are available at, by phone at (212) 719-1300 or at the Studio 54 theatre box office, 254 W. 54th St. For more information visit

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