by Lynn on September 17, 2017

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Samuel Beckett
Directed by Daniel Brooks
Set by Lorenzo Savoini
Lighting by Kevin Lamotte
Costumes by Michelle Tracey
Sound by Richard Feren
Cast: Oliver Dennis
Diego Matamoros
Alex McCooeye
Richie Lawrence
Rick Roberts

A terrific production of a wonderful play about life, tenacity, trying, failing, trying again and failing better. Don’t wait to see it.

The Story. Two tramps, Estragon and Vladimir, wait on an empty road for a man named Godot who never shows up. They talk of life, philosophy and their fading memories while they wait. A strange bully named Pozzo enters with another man named Lucky who is attached to a rope that Pozzo pulls. Actually Lucky arrives first, like a packhorse with a rope around his neck and Pozzo, who carries the other end of the rope in one hand, and a whip in the other. Lucky is laden down with Pozzo’s suitcases and is badly treated by him. Initially Estragon and Vladimir are frightened by this pair but they get over it when Pozzo and Lucky leave.

Then a little boy appears to tell them that Godot isn’t coming but will probably be there the next day. So they wait with pent up emotion, frustration, and anger perhaps at life.

The Production. Director Daniel Brooks and his creative designers have created that stark world of the play. Lorenzo Savoini envisions a worn grey wood floor with some boards ‘coming up’ from being even. There is a concrete block on the floor and a rectangular shape of wood? Plastic? next to the concrete block. The block is Estragon’s preferred choice on which to sit. There is one lone, bare tree, upstage right. Michelle Tracey’s costumes are deliberately worn, drab and loose fitting.

Oliver Dennis is irascible as Estragon. He sits on that concrete block with one booted leg bent at the knee and angled so that the boot is in the air almost touching the other knee. The exertion on Oliver Dennis’s face is obvious. This is a struggle. It should be. This is almost life and death to get that damned boot off. So I found the positioning of the foot in the air and not grounded on the opposite knee for support an odd choice. It looks almost like a yoga pose, making the intention less focused. If the foot is grounded on the knee the only exercise here is the struggle to get the boot off. Oliver Dennis is a smart actor and gifted in finding the humour in the deepest, darkest places. When he does carefully get the boot off his reaction is one of pain, as if the bare foot (no socks here) is rubbed raw. The foot looks dirty, which is reasonable. But I think there should be more indication that the foot hurts and should be red and perhaps bloody from sores. A quibble I know, but gifted theatre makers like these folks make me look harder and think deeper.

Estragon is the one who is overcome with the frustration at the wait, the futility of it, the uncertainty of how to move forward. Dennis loses his temper in a moment of utter frustration. He’s almost mean with the hapless Lucky.

Diego Matamoros as Vladimir is more philosophical and easy-going. He is the man of commitment. He said he would wait for Godot and no matter what, he will. Matamoros brings out the quiet humanity of Vladimir. The scene in which Vladimir interrogates the Boy who says Mr. Godot will not appear, is done with a lovely formality and respect for the kid. Richie Lawrence as the Boy has a keen sense of the pauses and timing of the short answers. And he knows how to project.

As Pozzo, Rick Roberts has an edge of meanness, but a disarming charm. He is contemptuous of Lucky, cruel to him, but easy going almost with Estragon and Vladimir.

Finally, Alex McCooeye plays Lucky with such a sense of being ground-down it’s a wonder he doesn’t collapse. He is treated as an over-worked pack-horse. He stands almost wavering as he stands, trying to remain upright. His speech of seemingly unrelated gibberish is a damaged mind at work. McCooeye gives that speech as if the person saying it knows what he’s saying and we come to take that on faith too. It begins quietly but builds in urgency and frustration for the speaker.

Director Daniel Brooks serves the play beautifully. He is respectful of what Beckett wrote and sticks to it. No fancy directorial touches. In the end Estragon and Vladimir stand apart, still. Wanting to leave. But staying. Waiting.

The play and production are very funny and deeply moving. Sort of like life.

Comment. Waiting for Godot has confounded audiences for decades and I don’t think it’s justified. It’s a terrific play full of insight dazzling wit and love. In the first scene, Estragon tries to take his boot off. He struggles. It’s impossible. He tries again and fails.

Then he says, “Nothing to be done,” which should be the end of the play, but of course Estragon keeps trying to get his boot off and finally does.

Waiting for Godot is about life and getting through the day and trying to get your boot off, finding it difficult, but you keep trying. Godot doesn’t show up but Estragon and Vladimir continue to hope he will appear the next day so they continue to wait.

I think of the wonderful Tennessee Williams line in The Glass Menagerie concerning the Gentleman Caller, “he is that long delayed but always expected something that we live for. “

Beckett I think is more philosophical in his thinking in this regard—waiting for hope, Godot to come and save them (from what we don’t know) and waiting with your best friend who won’t leave you while you wait.

It’s a gem of a play and the production is too.

Produced by Soulpepper Theatre Company.

Plays until Oct. 7, 2017.

Running Time: 2 hours, 40 minutes.

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