What: Play by Samuel Beckett, directed by Carl daSilva (cq), presented by Long Beach Playhouse
Where: Long Beach Playhouse Studio Theatre, 5021 East Anaheim, Long Beach, Ca.
When: This Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. through May 7
Tickets:$22, $20 for seniors, $12 for students
Information: (562) 494-1014, www.lbplayhouse.org
By John Farrell
There are a couple of ways to think about “Waiting for Godot,” which opened last Friday at the Long Beach Playhouse Studio Theatre for a run through May 7.
It may not be the “most significant play of the 20th century” as it was once voted, but it is certainly one of the few in that category, and it marks the start of the new LB Playhouse Studio series with a note of high expectancy. It suggests pretty clearly that things are going to be different there this season, if the Alive Theatre production of “Four Clowns,” which preceded it in that space, hadn't already proved the same.
That's one way to look at it. Another is just to say that it is a great play, and nearly sixty years after its first production in France (it was originally written in French and translated later into English by its author, Samuel Beckett) though it is still as difficult as ever to figure out just what it means, the discussion is now civil and significant. It was often a lot more heated in the early days.
The play stars Anthony B. Cohen as Vladimir, short and slight and looking for the meaning of everything, and Karl Schott as Estragon, bigger and just as confused and hopeless. Both are dressed in clothes that are well past there thrift-store days, but with the black bowler hats that denote at least a more of respectability in their limited and at the same time wide-open world, dominated by a single and sparse tree.
In this production they are waiting for the appearance of Godot (pronounced “GOD-oh,” which suggests something which Beckett apparently didn't actually intend.) Whoever he is (and the controversy is as profound now as fifty and more years ago) Godot promised to meet them at the tree, but never shows up. Vladimir and Estragon wait and pass the time as best they can, discussing existence, the Bible, and a bad joke that neither of them remembers.
Into this lonely world come Pozzo (Steven Biggs) and Lucky (Kyle Bryan,) the former leading the latter on a length of rope as his slave. Pozzo is leading Lucky to the market to sell him. When they return in the second half of the play Pozzo is blind and doesn't remember anything of the day before.
“Godot” has been called many things in the discussion that have warred around the play in more than half a century, and one of them is that it is a vaudeville number. Certainly Vladimir and Estragon engage in vaudeville antics, patting each other on the buttocks, doing a routine with their bowler hats that is reminiscent of Laurel and Hardy. But theirs is, for all that, a world of day-to-day despair, always waiting for Godot, whom they have never seen, to meet them. When a boy (played by Terren Mueller is his playhouse debut) comes to tell them Godot is coming tomorrow, they quiz him on this mysterious character, to little avail.
The setting of all this is as evocative as it is sparse. Andrew Vonderschmitt puts a plain, leafless tree made of bent pipes on one side of the stage that is harshly lit and features a backdrop of an endless desert. A few pieces of carpet-covered rocks are all that Estragon and Vladimir have to face every day. (The nights they sleep in ditches nearby, apparently.) All they have is each other and endless waiting. Cohen and Schott are contrasts in size (Cohen is small and wiry, Schott big and lanky) and in style. Vladimir is always looking for something to do, Estragon is often sleepy. They both consider suicide, but it might not work.
Draw your own conclusions: Marx or Freud or a comedy routine gone wrong. But go see this brilliant, entertaining and thought-provoking play, and celebrate the new playhouse and its creative team.