Wednesday, June 3, 2009

A Godot worth Waiting For

My great friend Kay Boyle, one of the hierarchy of American writers from that age which has passed, when writers were revered and dared to write books like "Being Geniuses Together" as Kay did when she was young and in Paris, highly esteemed Samuel Beckett, whom she actually knew, as she did James Joyce, contributing to my feeling that I had been born at the wrong time. (I had also felt that way about Keats and Shelley, but I was very young then, and would willingly have ended my life in my twenties in exchange for some of those poems.) But Samuel Beckett never did it for me, minimalism and the Theater of the Absurd-- unless it starred Zero Mostel--seeming more alienating than embracing, my thoughts about writers being that they should open their arms to the reader/audience, inviting them in. So any previous renditions of Godot that I have seen have neither moved me nor made me laugh.
But the production of Waiting for Godot now at Studio 54 has finally broken that barrier. To begin with, Nathan Lane, adored by the multitudes has always seemed to me over the top. Here, he is under it. Both respectful to the material and restrained in his performance, he manages to convey what there is of comedy in this bleak parable of human faith in the Invisible(and perhaps non-existent)to a gently charming degree. Bill Irwin is so comfortable in his own skin that he seems not to have bones, rather like Ray Bolger as the Scarecrow in Wizard of Oz, just one big, easy flap of a man, going along with it all, which may be the best, in reality, that any of us can do. John Glover is the one who has captured the kudos, up for a Tony as supporting player, tied round the neck at the end of John Goodman's rope, so sadly convincing that one of my friends thought he was a horse. Goodman, as Pozzo, in a much-heralded return to the stage, is alarmingly convincing as an overstuffed lord of the manor, genuinely scary not because of his insensitivity but because of his size, since many in the audience have become fond of him over the years in accessible and genial roles giving many the feeling they actually knew him, so overweight that one fears for his heart; the scene where he falls to the ground and cannot get up because of his avoirdupois is more wrenching than comic.
All in all, director Anthony Page has done an admirable job. The scenic design, if such it can be called, except for the sorry tree that sprouts a few leaves, like the hope of a Creative Intelligence behind the universe, is comprised mostly of boulders, echoing almost to the color and number of rocks what seemed to me the ordeal of the season, if you don't count 'Impressionism', 'Desire Under the Elms.' But all in all, very much worth the seeing, if you don't really need an answer to the Meaning of It All, or that there might be none.