by Macey Levin
One of the first plays of the Theatre of the Absurd was Jean Genet’s “The Maids” in 1947 which was followed by Eugene Ionesco’s “The Bald Soprano” in 1950. This is a theatrical form that alludes to the absurdity of existence in a grotesque world by a surreal or irrational scheme. The most famous work of this genre is probably Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting For Godot,” which is currently at Barrington Stage Company’s St. Germain Stage in Pittsfield, Massachusetts in a rambunctious and compelling production.
Written in 1953 by Beckett, who was French, Europe was still recovering from World War Two and existed between the two atomic powers, the United States and Russia who were embroiled in a Cold War. The Korean War was coming to a close, but Asia was thrown into chaos characterized by Communist Korea and China. Is it any wonder the world seemed to be coming apart with only a dark future ahead?
Vladimir (Didi) and Estragon (Gogo) are lost souls having lived a wayward life without an awareness of the world. They have hope in the form of Godot (accent on the first syllable) without really knowing who he is or what he can actually bring to them other than an elusive ideal. Didi is insistent they remain where they are, a desolate landscape populated by a pile of stones and a tree that hovers over them. Gogo wants to move on to the next place, wherever that may be. To compound the frustrations meted out to them, a boy brings a message from Godot that he cannot be there this evening but will, without failure, appear the following day. Unsurprisingly, that day doesn’t occur. As Didi and Gogo argue about their choices, little by little they lose their faith in the mysterious Godot and mankind including themselves. Their disillusionment is exacerbated by the arrival of two outsiders.
In the first act the bombastic Pozzo is supercilious and nicely dressed while his menial Lucky, who is not, wears tatters; Pozzo uses a lengthy rope to control the broken, disheveled man. The master gives orders with one curt word after another. With his eyes always focused on the ground, Lucky traipses back and forth responding to Pozzo’s commands. In act two, though the relationship is the same, Pozzo has developed a greater dependence on Lucky.
The four men in this dark and empty space reflect the indignity and suffering of mankind. They may banter and bicker, but it gets them virtually nowhere, a dramatic reminder of life’s futility. There are two lines amongst many that carry the theme of the play. Didi asks the boy, “Are you happy?” who replies, “I don’t know.” Didi’s response: “You don’t know if you’re happy or not?” Later he says to Gogo, “What truth will there be?” At one time or another haven’t we all asked these questions?
What makes this “Godot” live is the direction by Joe Calarco who has eschewed the solemnity of most productions of the play. He allows his protagonists, Mark H. Dold’s Didi and Kevin Isola’s Gogo, to dart around the stage sometimes in a vaudeville style or to indulge in broad shtick and then to contemplate their lives and fate with confusion and irritation. They move from one tone to the next in less than a second so that each moment demands we listen, watch and empathize with them. It feels as if Dold and Isola were born to play these two characters together. Their performances are effectively complemented by those of Christopher Innvar as Pozzo and Max Wolkowitz as Lucky. Though Innvar’s pomposity is irritating, he is also likable. Wolkowitz makes Lucky a sympathetic figure though he is virtually mute through the entire play except for one mesmerizing, lengthy monologue. The boy, played by twelve-year old Maximus Holey, is appealing as the innocent, sweet-faced messenger.
The playing space is expansive and stark with the small pile of rocks downstage and a huge tree above center stage that extends overhead into the audience bringing us into the physicality of Luciana Stecconi’s beautifully vast set. This offers the actors enormous room that director Calarco has used to provide physical freedom to the cast. David Lander’s lighting design is simple and effective in its subtlety while Debra Kim Sivigny’s costumes are fittingly grimy except for Pozzo’s pretentious togs.
“Waiting for Godot” has always been a controversial play, but its wit and strangely optimistic acceptance of life’s futility creates an extremely intelligent and theatrical experience not to be missed.
Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett; Director: Joe Calarco; Cast: Mark H. Dold (Vladimir) Christopher Innvar (Pozzo) Kevin Isola (Estragon) Max Wolkowitz (Lucky) Maximus Holey (A Boy); Scenic Design: Luciana Stecconi; Costume Design: Debra Kim Sivigny; Lighting Design: David Lander; Sound Design: Nathan Leigh; Production Stage Manager: Anthony O. Bullock; Running time: two and a half hours including one intermission; 8/19/22 – 9/4/22; Barrington Stage company, St. Germain Theatre, 36 Linden St., Pittsfield, MA; For information and tickets go to their website at http://www.barringtonstageco.org or call 413-236-8888.