Theatre review: Waiting For Godot – this oft-produced classic still has some life in it yet

While having suffered through or thoroughly enjoyed at least five different productions of Waiting For Godot over the years, there are none that have left any lasting impression. That is until the current production from Blackbird Theatre, which is so respectful and skillful that it will forever be etched in my mind as the benchmark for this classic piece of absurdist theatre.

For other Godot neophytes like my friend on Sunday afternoon (in an effort to wrap her head around the story she likened it to both Groundhog Day and 50 First Dates), the tale finds Vladimir and Estragon waiting by the roadside for the arrival of Godot, a man that neither has met and who they have only the vaguest of ideas as to who might be. The pair passes the time eating, sleeping, arguing, singing, and at one point even contemplating suicide. As they wait fruitlessly for Godot to make an appearance, the pompous Pozzo passes through with his slave Lucky.

The scholarly interpretations of Waiting For Godot are about as long as the play itself, prompting Beckett himself to pass comment about the over-complicated meaning viewers place on his work. That said, the very structure of the play and one of its ultimate strengths is the ability for theatre-goers to view it from different perspectives. Where previously I have watched the play from its popular existential view as the duo grapple with a world where God no longer exists and the meaning of life is lost, this time I decided to watch it through another lens, that of its homoeroticism and the idea that perhaps Vladimir and Estragon are a couple. I won’t go into any great analysis here as to what I concluded (and not that it is a new thought anyway), but suffice to say there is enough here to give hope for the rest of us looking forward to celebrating our own fifty year anniversaries.

Whatever your interpretation or lens that you decide to apply to the play, one thing is inescapable in this production: the performances are uniformly brilliant. Simon Webb and Anthony F Ingram have a wonderfully realized symbiotic relationship as Didi and Gogo (the pet names Vladimir and Estragon use for each other), feeding off one another as they wait endlessly for the arrival of the mysterious Godot. Beckett’s words roll off their tongues with such ease and a respectful grace that I found myself hanging onto every word. As Pozzo, William Samples gives a wickedly funny performance that includes a delightfully quirky physical interpretation of this arrogant ass, which is a great contrast to the broader physicality of Adam Henderson’s Lucky. Once again proving there are no small parts, Zander Constant makes the most of his role as the young boy.

The cast of Blackbird Theatre's Waiting For Godot.  Photo by Tim Matheson.
The cast of Blackbird Theatre’s Waiting For Godot. Photo by Tim Matheson.

Director John Wright keeps everything tight, and for a show with a running time of nearly three hours with intermission, keeping the momentum is an imperative. Marti Wright does triple duty as set, costume and props designer giving us an iconic bare-bone set and beautifully appropriate costumes, while Conor Moore takes full advantage of The Cultch’s fixtures to ensure everything is lit perfectly.

While containing few surprises, this respectful production proves that, with the right people both onstage and off, this oft-produced classic still has some life in it yet. And while comparing it to a Bill Murray or Adam Sandler movie might be a bit of a stretch for some, who are we to argue if that’s what it takes to get you to the end?

4 Out of 5 Stars Waiting For Godot

Written by Samuel Beckett. Directed by John Wright. A Blackbird Theatrical Society production. On stage at The Cultch Historic Theatre through January 21, 2012. Visit http://www.blackbirdtheatre.ca for more information.

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