ArtsEmerson Imports A Standup ‘Waiting For Godot’
BOSTON – Every successful production of “Waiting for Godot” makes gracelessness graceful, boredom entertaining, and facing the abyss transcendent. This is, after all, the seminal play of high modernism in which, according to one famous review, “Nothing happens, twice.”
Samuel Beckett, for all the dour implications of his work, appreciated a good time. He loved comedians like Buster Keaton and the two principals of “Waiting for Godot,” Vladimir and Estragon, aren’t just a pair of schmos contemplating the meaningless or monotony of life, but cut-ups in the manner of Laurel and Hardy or Abbott and Costello.
They’re the kind of comedic duos that come to mind watching Conor Lovett and Gary Lydon chew the lack of scenery in the excellent e Gare St Lazare Players-Dublin Theatre Festival production, which was cocommissioned by ArtsEmerson and is now at the Paramount Mainstage (through Nov. 10).
Beckett was very specific about how the play be presented and there’s only so much one can do with “A country road. A tree. Evening.” Director Judy Hearty Lovett and her designers and cast do quite a bit.
In many productions either Vladimir or Estragon seems the card and the other the straight man but Lovett and Lydon seem more like equals here, at least comedically since Vladimir is the alpha dog in this Bizarro universe. The two have such a winning chemistry that their perambulations through this terrain seem equally philosophical and absurdist at the same time. They never weigh the play down, but they also don’t diminish its implications of insignificance. (It will be interesting to see how Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen compare in New York.)
Lovett looks like a shorter John Malkovich, though without the menace. Lydon looks like Bud Abbott and Lou Costello rolled into one. Together, you half expect them to break into that duo’s classic “Who’s on first” skit.
But this is Beckett’s world and the dialogue is less concerned with baseball than:
“What about hanging ourselves?”
“It might give us an erection.”
This is all to amuse themselves while waiting for Godot, the man who holds up the slimmest sliver of hope that the waiting will be rewarded. There’s a calmness to Lovett’s belief that things will be better and a curmudgeonly “whatever” to Lydon’s skepticism, but there is always a twinkle beneath the surface that unites the two and makes the audience root for them to keep on keeping on despite our knowledge that Godot ain’t ever coming.
It’s such a strong bond that the arrival of the two secondary characters, Pozzo and Lucky, almost seems like a distraction, despite the latter’s riotous hang-dog expression and masterful delivery by Tadhg Murphy of the “personal god quaquaquaqua with white beard quaquaquaqua” aria of non-deliverance.
Lucky, of course, is anything but. He’s the lackey of the officious slave-driving Pozzo, played with a little too much stentorian affect by Gavan O’Herlihy, though he certainly won over the crowd with a salute to the Red Sox on his way off the stage on opening night.
Beckett would be the first to recognize that when all is said and done we still cling to life and meaning despite all and find our joys where we may. It really does matter who’s on first after all.