Update: Catastrophic Theatre has announced a one-week extension through April 20.
The setup: Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett is a mid-20th century masterpiece, hailed by critics and audience alike, but one that requires consummate acting. This challenge has been a magnet for many brilliant actors - some succeeded, some did not. Following the acclaimed success last year of its production of Beckett's End Game, the Catastrophic Theatre dares greatly yet again, and has mounted this difficult and rewarding work, the most famous and most produced of Beckett's plays and the one that gave him financial security.
Some pretend the work is difficult to understand, but this is not the case; it is instead subject to different interpretations, a very different thing. It is filled with ambiguities, much like life. To me, it echoes William Butler Yeats's lines from Sailing to Byzantium "An aged man is but a paltry thing/A tattered coat upon a stick, unless/Soul clap its hands, and sing, and louder sing/For every tatter in its mortal dress."
The two central characters are Estragon, who is dominant, and Vladimir, more nurturing. They are dressed in remnants of once respectable clothes, and Vladimir at one point refers to past days "when we were respectable." They are old friends, deeply committed to each other, and the symbiotic relationship, the mutual need, the rich co-dependency, is palpable and brought to pulsing, vibrant life by two brilliant actors: Charlie Scott as Estragon and Greg Dean as Vladimir. They wait in a wasteland for an appointment with a Mr. Godot.
Some say not much happens in the play, but I believe instead that a lot happens: appointments are made, new acquaintances are met, and re-met, a messenger adds an additional element of ambiguity, a man is blinded, and a slave mistreated. The narrative is clear, even linear - the linearity is essential, since it is the passage of time that Beckett dares face - he has pulled aside the curtain and seen that a human birth is a sentence of death, that mortality is the common fate, and has given us an example of how two men cope with this inconvenient truth.
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The acquaintances they make are Pozzo, wealthy, and on his way to sell his slave, ironically named Lucky, who is burdened with suitcases, a stool, a picnic basket, and subject to a whip. Kyle Sturdivant plays Pozzo and etches a memorable portrait of smugness and vanity, while letting us see that this is the normative behavior of the affluent. Troy Schulze, named by the Houston Press as "best supporting actor" for his role in End Game, brings his rich talents to the role of Lucky, to create another vivid characterization of an abused servant. In a cameo role, young Ty Doran is compelling as the messenger from Mr. Godot, who appears twice but is a different boy each time - another layer of ambiguity.
The work is brilliantly directed by Jason Nodler, artistic director of the Catastrophic Theatre, who directed End Game last year. I have some quibbles: the messenger is so important, as is his message, that he might be seen more centrally, instead of at the side; the moon seemed unnaturally large; and perhaps we could less often see the two principals downstage facing the audience side-by-side. But Nodler has accomplished the feat of making every moment interesting, and merits our admiration and gratitude. He and the actors have made the connection between the characters strong and dynamic, and even Vladimir's brief interaction with the messenger sparks with need, hope and disillusion. For in the hands of these gifted actors, a simple line such as "We are happy" can, and does, resonate with a multitude of meanings. Feel free to find your own meanings, as I have done - the choice is rich indeed in this remarkable production that has captured so well Beckett's genius.
A deep, intriguing and insightful play finds itself brought to exciting life in a brilliant production that finds its humor and its engrossing humanity. Waiting for Godot continues through April 20.at The Catastrophic Theatre, 1119 East Freeway. For information or ticketing, call 713-522-2723 or contact www.catastrophictheatre.com.