Sunday, March 9, 2014

'Waiting for Godot' continues to frustrate, challenge

Among the first reviews I ever wrote is Waiting for Godot. Seasoned professional theatre critics still struggle with making some semblance out of Beckett’s tragi-comedy, featuring a surreal plot and eccentric characters. As a 20 year-old college student, I sat there taking notes, never really knowing what the hell was happening on stage. But the actors were acting, so I figured whatever I tried to explain about the goings-on would be just as valid as anyone else’s interpretation. 
As it turned out, several little old ladies in the audience stormed out of the theatre in obvious disgust at the dialogue and stage actions. I think they left during the farting scene. 
The illustrious Emporia Gazette critic was there the same opening night, and gave Godot a sound thumbs down. This gave me some notoriety since we were so opinion-split. I was told more folks attended the production than expected, because they wanted to see which critic was on the mark. 
Nonetheless, what follows is what was published in The Bulletin, Emporia State’s student newspaper, on Oct. 18, 1967. 
By Steve Crum
Waiting for Godot, the first New Theatre production of the season, opened Monday evening.
It was brilliant.
The plot is centered upon two seemingly ignorant men who encounter various problems while waiting for the mysterious man, Godot. The primary concern of the entire play is not the appearance of Godot, but instead, the discipline of waiting.
The attitude of each of the characters is one of confusion and uncertainty. As a study of man’s actions, both mental and physical, author Samuel Beckett is perceptive. Psychologically, the play ponders and answers many questions that are seemingly devoid of answers. One of the characters, Didi, rationalizes at one point, “When you seek, you believe.”
Being one of the most famous of the “Theatre of the Absurd” productions, Godot traditionally incorporates several recognizable qualities: broken dialogue, inconsistency in progression and harmony, a minimum of props and scenery, and at times, almost hellish dreamlike visions.
Directed by William E. McDonnell, himself a graduate of the “absurd theatre,” Godot exhibits precision. One more clearly understand because director McDonnell makes them understand.
There are only five characters in the play: Jim Daniels as Estragon (Gogo); Larry Remmers as Vladimir (Didi), Conrad Jestmore as Lucky, Patrick Kelley as Pozzo, and promising newcomer to the New Theatre stage, Indulis Dambro as the boy messenger.
Jim Daniels and Larry Remmers should undoubtedly be applauded for their frequently too realistic characterizations of Gogo and Didi. Daniels, as the sarcastic and sleepy hobo, blended appropriately with Larry Remmers, portraying the bombastic bed wetter and sometime intellectual. 
Conrad Jestmore holds the more physical part in his portrayal of the man servant of Pozzo. Jestmore does not speaks very much during the course of the play (he is usually bent over, grumbling somewhat), but it is a high point when he does speak. His “soliloquy” is memorable, though, on my part, unquotable. He must have said something.
The part of Pozzo, the egotistical slave driver, is enacted by Patrick Kelley. Here again, the character required versatility, and Mr. Kelley was effective.
Waiting for Godot will run through Oct. 21. Tickets are still available at the College Theatre box office, New Humanities Building. The price is 50 cents plus activity ticket, which is an inexpensive way to see an extremely high caliber play.

During the “showdown” scene of Godot, insults are directed at each of the two participants much like bullets, the mortal wound occurring with the mention of “critic.” It was difficult to keep from smiling. 
An excerpt from the 2014 Broadway revival of Waiting For Godot, featuring Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen:

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