Story: Two men converse on a nearly barren landscape. They appear to be in dire straits, although their now shabby clothes indicate they once held loftier places in society. They talk about a man named Godot, who has promised to visit them today, much like he has indicated numerous times in the 50 years they have waited. As of yet, though, they have never actually met this individual.
They pass the time swapping stories and reminiscences, playing odd games and foraging for food, somehow maintaining optimism despite their pitiful condition. Eventually a stately man journeys down the road on which they have rested, accompanied by another person who is restrained by a rope and treated as a beast of burden. Is this well-dressed man Godot, they wonder?
It turns out that is not the case. Nonetheless, they strike up a conversation with the surly gentleman and his hapless, slave companion. Eventually, a young boy comes by with news that the arrival of Mr. Godot will be delayed still again. When will the elusive and mysterious Godot finally appear?
Highlights: Playwright Samuel Beckett’s masterpiece has been termed “the greatest play of the 20th century,” and has been much dissected, analyzed and discussed ever since its debut in 1953. Although Beckett was Irish, he lived most of his life in Paris and Godot originally was written in French.
The English translation is sub-titled “a tragic-comedy in two acts,” although it’s been said that there’s little difference between the two halves. Maybe, however, that’s the way Beckett intended it to be. Full of ambiguity and existential angst, Waiting for Godot is provocative and compelling, even though nothing ostensibly ever happens. In the hands of director Bobby Miller, who considers Godot his personal favorite play, the current production staged by St. Louis Actors’ Studio is a joy to observe and one Beckett aficionados likely will find engaging.
Other Info: Miller himself starred with local director, actor and teacher Wayne Salomon in a version mounted by Theatre Project Company in 1979. A more recent and quite memorable rendition at The Black Rep in the mid-‘90s featured Salomon and Black Rep founder Ron Himes, about the same time that local actors Joe Hanrahan and David Wassilak starred in another production.
So, it may be nearly 20 years since a local company has brought Beckett’s classic to the stage, all the more reason to cherish this splendid version. Miller has assembled an expert cast, a cadre of four accomplished actors plus the estimable talents of Hayden Benbenek as the boy in a brief role.
Performing on a mostly barren stage dominated by a dead tree, a pair of rocks and a background canvas that occasionally is illuminated by the moon presented by set and lighting designer Patrick Huber, the quartet of actors offers a dazzling and delicious approach to Beckett’s satirical jabs at religion, society and his musings about mortality and the role of homo sapiens on planet Earth.
Stage manager Amy Paige adorns that lonely tree with a handful of leaves for Act II, Lisa Beke provides a limited number of judicious props and Michele Friedman Siler carefully dresses the characters in fine attire that is in various stages of decline, depending upon the individual.
Miller maintains a precise pace that doesn’t allow the play’s inertia to bog down proceedings, while also allowing his players to properly cultivate their characters’ idiosyncrasies. Each of the major actors fully invests himself into his role, drawing from a reservoir of emotions and ruminations that propel the production.
Gary Wayne Barker and Terry Meddows present an almost balletic interpretation of the relationship between Vladimir and Estragon, who spend most of the drama referring to each other by the nicknames of Didi and Gogo. While Barker as Vladimir ponders the possibilities of what Godot’s arrival will mean, Meddows’ Estragon concerns himself more with feeding his hunger and massaging his feet from the torture of boots too small.
Both actors make much out of seemingly little, showing how they are such accomplished performers. A routine of swapping three hats back and forth is handled with the smoothest dexterity, just as Vladimir’s frequent thoughts of suicide by hanging from that desolate tree are played out in beguiling fashion. Much is made as well of Estragon’s delight in the smallest bits of nourishment he can finagle, whether a lone carrot or the chicken bones thrown away by Pozzo.
That latter character is given a rich and hearty performance by Greg Johnston, who smoothly moves from the pompous braggadocio and cruelty espoused by the regal but coarse Pozzo in Act I to the timid and tentative halting of the starkly transformed character in Act II.
As the ironically named Lucky, Aaron Orion Baker, awash in startlingly pasty makeup, shuffles meticulously in deference to the degradation heaped upon him by Pozzo. Just as impressively, he spews a stream of elegant thoughts and increasingly mindless gibberish like an opened fire hydrant when commanded to “think.”
While Waiting for Godot most assuredly has its detractors, the St. Louis Actors’ Studio version is a most welcome addition to memorable past renditions, anxiously awaiting the always frustrating title character.
Play: Waiting for Godot
Group: St. Louis Actors’ Studio
Venue: Gaslight Theater, 358 North Boyle
Dates: April 25, 26, 27, 28, May 2, 3, 4, 5
Rating: A 5 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of Patrick Huber and St. Louis Actors’ Studio