Theater Review: WAITING FOR GODOT (Druid Theatre)

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by Lawrence Bommer on May 25, 2018

in Theater-Chicago,Theater-Regional,Tours


“Birth was the death of him”: Terse to the point of cruelty, Samuel Beckett here devours the human experience in six words. Waiting for Godot, his minimalist masterpiece, takes nearly three hours for the same result. But Beckett succeeds in his life-long task: to “find the form that will accommodate the mess” of life on earth. Beyond pity, it actually delivers a refreshingly non-negotiable outcome of a bedrock basic: There’s no further to fall.

In two forlorn, co-dependent bums who define themselves by what doesn’t happen, Beckett reduces hope to habit and persistence to folly. Or, as he later put it, “Nothing is funnier than unhappiness.” 65 years after its 1953 debut (he’s stood me up at least seven times by now; maybe Godot retired), Waiting for Godot thrills us as it flattens boxcars of aspirations about dignity and destiny into music-hall merriment.

Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s cultural import, a revival by Ireland’s Druid theatre company, is starkly helmed by Tony Award-winning director Garry Hynes. Her take on the seminal anti-tragedy is richly orthodox, respecting the physical and gallows humor while never undercutting the pathos of a friendship that trembles on the edge of amnesia. As the play says, “There’s no lack of void” — or heart either.

The bums’ love/hate dysfunction is our humanity. When they decide not to hang themselves, it’s our victory too, though death gets the last laugh. (Don’t tell that to opening night patrons: Their laughter at Beckett’s clever vaudeville fit like a glove, but then they condescendingly chuckled at the bums’ ignorance of their plight as if failures of memory, emptiness of purpose, and ferocious forces of habit could never be their lot. There’s bitterness in the universality of this cruel hoax on more than two vagabonds, a bully, a slave and a boy. Perhaps folks were laughing through their fears.)

As the maternally protective and sententiously humanistic Vladimir, Marty Rea works overtime to hold onto what little reality they can agree on. Childishly free to whine rhapsodically, Aaron Monaghan’s delightfully goofy Estragon swoops down on every absurdity with perfect timing and a wicked rubber face. (Watch how he can look while chewing a carrot.) When he sardonically dismisses Estragon’s consolation that the latest distraction at least helped to pass the time, he dryly remarks, “It would have passed anyway” — the absolute irreducible reality of this Occam’s razor play.

As the intruders, Rory Nolan plays Pozzo with a pompous ferocity and phony gentility that no doubt deliberately forfeits sympathy when he suffers in the second act; Garrett Lombard gives Lucky’s ragtag tour-de-force “thinking,” — an operatic outburst of outmoded Western thought — a splendid, if unfocused, abandon.

The performances were nothing less than powerfully persuasive, enough so that a little despair goes too long a way. The wacky movement choreography by Nick Winston works wonderfully in defining their desperation. So do four bleak words: “Nothing to be done.” Starkly pictorial, Francis O’Connor’s confined cyclorama — a hill with a tree that pops a leaf — injects a pathetic hint of nature into a surrealistically stylized set.

photos by Matthew Thompson

Waiting For Godot
presented by Chicago Shakespeare
Courtyard Theater on Navy Pier
ends on June 3, 2018
for tickets, call 312.595.5600 or visit CST
for more info, visit Druid Theatre

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