Metal bolts poking out of its joints, a tree stands stark and beige on tattered, worn-leather ground. Huddled and squatting in his rags, a man pulls on his boot, grimaces, gives up. Repeat.
Directed by Emmett Zackheim ’08, “Waiting for Godot,” going up this weekend at the Whitney Humanities Center, is a successful if not wholly inspired production of Beckett’s masterpiece.
Overall, “Godot” is a polished, coherent show. Beckett’s pacing, anxious rhythms, his nightmarish flashes and ecstasies are preserved; the color and quality of light all compliment the grayish, barren feel of the text.
That said, Zackheim has made some poor stylistic choices. In particular, his decision to have his actors pronounce Godot (formerly “Guh-DOH”) as “GAW-doh” is almost criminal; it makes explicit a name-game that Beckett, arguably, never intended. It is true that directors have a prerogative and even obligation to make this sort of “artistic” alteration, but Vladimir’s endless harping on “GAW-doh” is irritating; the repeated phrase “We’re waiting for GAW-doh” is jarring rather than haunting.
Perhaps the play’s strongest actor is Andrew Rejan ’10 as Lucky. Though he’s nothing exceptional in the simple role of a slouched bag-carrier, his monologue, which is, especially in this production, one of the focal points of the play, is an unforgettable example of stage-craft and lingual agility. Spitting words at a pace to rival foreign anchormen, Rejan recreates the first act, recasts the play’s pace and aesthetic in a chaotic, crystalline moment. It’s unfortunate that Rejan’s character is effectively dumb for the rest of the play, and that his talent should be largely squandered in an almost unacted role.
Bix Bettwy ’08 as Vladimir and Tommy Crawford ’09 as Estragon are both strong as post-apocalyptic anti-heroes. However, Bettwy’s character seems practiced; the role that he plays as Vladimir seems to have been pieced together from previous roles rather than organically created within the context of this particular play. He is therefore not entirely genuine and too theatrical; one could imagine him translating the same gestures and voice inflexions to another character. The surrealism of a Beckett play does not call for strictly realistic characters, but a tragedy like “Godot” does demand that its actors be sympathetic, even painfully so. Bettwy’s Vladimir is certainly sympathetic, but there is something dissatisfying and incomplete about his performance. Crawford is somewhat more effective as the more laconic Estragon, simply because he is not as blatantly theatrical.
Pozzo (played by Stan Seiden ’10), depicted as a tall Victorian fop whose speech runs over an unusual number of octaves, is initially interesting, but becomes somewhat tiresome after several minutes. Though very funny, he is a bit too slow and lumbering; he increases the viscosity of the dialogue, makes it more lingering, calculated, and boring. The audience can probably blame the play’s length (nearly 3 hours) on Seiders.
Any production of “Waiting for Guh-DO” is necessarily ambitious. It is difficult to capture Beckett’s peculiar tragicomedy, his hopeful/hopeless sense of black humor. Zackheim’s “GAW-doh” is still an impressive example of undergraduate theater, in spite of its flaws.