“Nothing can be made out of nothing.” So says Lear in Shakespeare’s King Lear. But don’t tell that to Samuel Beckett, who spent a lifetime writing about the nothingness of existence. In general, for Beckett, life was a dung-heap where individuals passed the time waiting for something to happen. What does happen while a person waits can be boring, tragic, funny, silent, loud, philosophical, scatological, cruel, tender, but never purposeful or fulfilling.
Waiting For Godot is, for many, the greatest play ever written in the English language. In fact, it is probably the best play written in English and French. Countess productions are mounted every year. A Noise Within, in Glendale, California, has mounted a superb rendition of this classic. I’ve seen many productions over the years and even acted in a couple, and this is one of the best, right up there with the production from The Gate Theatre in Dublin that has been touring the world for the last several years.
Joel Swetow and Robertson Dean, two of A Noise Within’s finest actors, assay the parts of the bums waiting on a country road for the mysterious Godot. Godot is never identified except to say that he has a white beard, does nothing, and may show up tomorrow. The waiting is killing Joel Swetow’s Estragon. He wants to get on with it and leave, separate from his companion of fifty years, Vladimir, or just go ahead and hang himself. But death isn’t in the cards, because there is no rope to be had, and the logistics of hanging himself on the puny tree that is available are impossible. Swetow is wonderful as Estragon, making him smarter than other times I have seen the play and ultimately quite a tragic figure.
Robertson Dean is also terrific as the seemingly erudite Vladimir. His Vladimir comes off as a thinker who doesn’t want to think, a poet without a quill. Of the two bums, he is the one who is resolved to his fate, but is alternately set in his ways and terrified of the implications. He can’t risk laughter or he would pee his pants, and besides, laughter hurts. Dean is also the master of the droll understatement (“this is becoming really insignificant”).
Mitchell Edmonds is probably the funniest Pozzo I have seen. He alternates between pumped up arrogance and total vulnerability; I don’t think I have ever seen Pozzo played with such vulnerability. Edmonds has a natural likability, so you can't help feeling sorry for the guy despite the fact he has a slave, Lucky – well played by Mark Bramhall – in tow.
The production is beautifully designed by Michael C. Smith. His barren landscape is, ironically, gorgeous. The lighting by James P. Taylor evokes just the right mood and includes the perfect instant switch from daytime to night.
The production is flawlessly directed by Andrew Traister. He paces the show brilliantly, never letting it sink into maudlin sentiment and never veering far from the humor of the piece. What I really admired was the rapid shifting of moods, which were always clear and delineated. Best of all, I learned new things in this production. It struck me that Vladimir and Estragon are on their way to becoming Pozzo and Lucky. For their part, Pozzo and Lucky have descended even further into blindness and slavish obedience in order to avoid the void, their games becoming more desperate and sad.
Unlike in his other plays, Beckett allows several rays of hope in Waiting For Godot. Vladimir and Estragon do love each other and the tree blooms. In later plays all that is gone. This is a masterful production of a great play.
At A Noise Within, in repertory through Dec. 12.Powered by Sidelines