“Nothing to be done.”
That’s the first line of Waiting for Godot, which Patrick Stewart accompanies with a shrug. This combination becomes not just a running theme but a running gag.
Waiting for Godot is the other half of the two productions playing in repertory at the Cort Theatre, both starring those two Sirs, Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen. (The other half, Harold Pinter’s No Man’s Land, was reviewed here on November 10.)
|Sir Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McKellen as Vladimir and Estragon. Photo Credit Joan Marcus|
The ruined set of rubble and broken boards, crumbling walls and one lone, bare tree is already more set than Samuel Beckett wrote. Nevertheless, its decrepitude is as magnificent as the decadence of the old Palladium, assuring us that life was once lived here but now not so much. Stephen Brimson Lewis’ design for this set and the utterly natural costumes are perfection.
In contrast to their roles in No Man’s Land, Patrick Stewart here is the exuberant one, and Ian McKellen the morose and unusually quiet one.Patrick Stewart entered the stage as Vladimir, a.k.a. DiDi, seemingly delighted to be alive. When Sir Ian climbed onto the stage from nowhere to appear as Estragon (GoGo), people in the audience annoyed me beyond measure by applauding just because the actors showed up. It’s their job to show up. Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart and Shuler Hensley and Billy Crudup all did a good deal more than just their jobs. They found a way to live in that dreadfully confusing, perversely funny world created by Samuel Beckett and made us love — or hate — them for a while. Laughter assuages the pain of that reality.
Back to McKellen’s entrance — he climbs onto the stage from a ditch where he was beaten the night before. Not for the first time. DiDi’s insistent cheerfulness is apparently more than GoGo can bear past dusk and he goes off alone after their long wait. Over and over. And back they come, to wait for Godot.
To break up GoGo & DiDi’s day, Ponzo — interpreted as a good ol’ boy by Shuler Hensley with a southern snarl and frightening clown-like make-up by Tom Watson — does hog calls and leaves all the heavy work to a slavelike creature named Lucky. Lucky, while not a pig despite Ponzo’s repeated calls, is barely identifiably human, as played with fragility by Billy Crudup. His focus and concentration on whatever world Lucky lives in is remarkable to see. These guys were having a fine time.
Once or twice a boy comes to see Estragon and Vladimir, professing not to recognize them at all and denying he was there the day before. He tells them that their wait for Godot is over, because Godot is not coming that evening. Surely tomorrow.
Estragon, Ponzo, and the boy appear to recall naught of the day before, while Vladimir is cursed with remembering it over and over. Lucky — well, who can tell what Lucky remembers besides a long string of fabulousness. Vladimir reveals to his fellows what has previously occurred, but it’s meaningless to them. Is it Vladimir’s memory that gives him faith?
Out thinking Beckett is not my line. I can imagine Sam Beckett chuckling, nodding, perhaps saying, “Well that passed the time.”
* * * * * * * * * *
The actors walk in and take their seats while some sound effects come into play. These are the radio actors. This concept was interesting to watch as actors played actors playing characters. Odd, without a doubt, but interesting. It was clear when an actor was the actor playing a character. Sometimes the actors laughed silently when not “onstage” (but seated on the side). The heart of this play is a riveting, sad and hilarious performance by Eileen Atkins as Mrs. Rooney, who is walking to the train station. We see she drags a leg (and hear the radio sound effect), and watch as she meets neighbors on her journey to the station to meet her blind husband played by Michael Gambon. Each of the neighbors with whom she chats, laughs, or disputes along the way has his own cross to bear, and each is vocalized by an actor playing an actor….you get the picture.
As No Man’s Land is Beckettian Pinter, so All That Fall is rather Pinteresque Beckett, with laughs at the human condition surprised by a devastating burst of sorrow. Director Trevor Nunn kept it clean and simple, and every actor was on the mark. Standouts were Trevor Cooper as Mr. Slocum, Catherine Cusack as Miss Fitt, and Ruairi Conaghan as Christy.
Two PInters + Two Becketts = theatre that forces you to think, then forces you to admit it was pointless. Nothing to be done…..
~ Molly Matera, signing off to re-read some Beckett….