Waiting for Godot
Marin Theatre Company
Through February 17
A world where evil and killing are virtues while sanity and goodness are punished by death. Samuel Beckett had just lived through that in France , when he wrote Waiting for Godot in 1949 (actually in French as While Waiting for Godot). And now, the new dawn after the war was not so great after all. Stalin was wearing the same cloth as Hitler, just giving it a different name, China was in a civil war and Europe was flattened economically.
Godot reflects this bleakness. The two tramps are symbols of all of mankind – waiting for a better future but with little hope, only ourselves to rely on, keeping our spirits up and trying to figure out what life is all about. And they are tramps because, regardless of riches, all mankind is stripped down to the same essentials in tackling life and thereafter.
One of the toughest plays in the world to stage successfully, because there is no beginning, no plot and no ending, Godot requires a confident director and accomplished actors. (High schools and colleges should avoid it, because the actors have hardly started on life’s road and have little instinct of what Beckett is talking about).
Marin Theatre Company has certainly achieved that, with virtually faultless performances from all four characters and director Jasson Minadakis knowing what he wants. Mark Anderson Phillips and Mark Bedard are at the top of their game, getting every step and utterance just so.
The question is whether it’s the right achievement. British productions I have seen often veer too much to the maudlin and bleak, producing a plodding, dull result.
Marin Theatre Company does just the opposite. The pace zips along, overcoming leaden patches in the dialogue.
The trouble is that comedy crowds out the somber, right from Estragon in the opening scene trying to pull off his boot. There are so many ways of interpreting this, from pathetic through desperate and all the way up the scale, that it acts as a signal of what the director is aiming for. Minadakis lets us know without any doubt. Certainly there are some delightful passages in Godot but this production overshadows, and sometimes smothers, the grim phases of life that Beckett highlighted.
At one point it seemed as if Bedard overplayed the comedy or was hinting that there is too much emphasis on humor. His one utterance of “We are waiting for Godot” was delivered in the style of a stand-up night club routine on Comedy Central.
Minadakis stays exact to Beckett’s balance of grim, bleak and funny only in the appearance in the First Act of James Carpenter as Pozzo and Ben Johnson as Lucky. Pozzo embodies the materially successful side that humans can aspire to, crushing everyone beneath him. Carpenter excels at that, eliciting a twinge of malice from the audience, who want him to be brought low.
Johnson deservedly earned applause for the nonsensical monologue, which I’ve always thought that Beckett overdid (just what is the point of uttering obscure British place names?), that sums up the constant mental anguish clogging our brains.
For audiences seeing Godot for the first time, this is a fun way to do it. But the deeper, hidden themes are elusive.
Martin Rushmere is a journalist and writer in Sausalito, California. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org