Los Angeles Theater Review: ESCAPE FROM GODOT (YARD Theater)

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by Tony Frankel on March 12, 2019

in Theater-Los Angeles


You’re watching a play but you have no idea what’s happening. There is no plot, the dialogue is gobbledygook, and characters are filled with despair, yet you are told that this is Theater of the Absurd, one of the milestones in modern drama. Still more maddening is that others around you can’t believe you don’t “get it,” yet very few of them can explain what they’ve seen. Kinda like life, isn’t it?

Part of the delicious attraction to Theater of the Absurd is that it frees us from having to explain anything. This freedom – this acknowledgement that life is a riddle that is inside a mystery, which is inside an enigma, which is inside a question – actually incites passion to live life to the fullest. It’s almost like a game, isn’t it?

Which is why it makes perfect sense that Mister and Mischief (husband-and-wife team Jeff and Andy Crocker) would take one of the beacons of absurdist drama — Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot (pronounced GOD-oh) — and turn it into escape room existentialism where nothing happens … many times. Well, something happens many times, but it’s a meaningless experience. I mean…

Completed in 1949, Beckett’s tedium- and inanity-filled comedy concerns two tramps who wait and wait and wait in vain by a roadside for the arrival of someone named Godot, who, while we never meet him, can mean many things to as many people. Even though Beckett’s nephew and executor, Edward, once said, “stock productions, small theatres, schools, institutions can go by on the nod” when staging Godot, the teeny-tiny premise here is that we need to help complete this production before the lawyers arrive to shut it down. Skirting the notoriously sue-happy Beckett estate by doing a chopped-up version under a tidy 60 minutes with different character names, we have immersive theater that gets amusingly stuck in repetition until a clue is solved. Naturally, I ain’t giving away nothing, except to say that … except to say that … except to say that …

Originally a Hollywood Fringe entry for only two days, Escape from Godot has taken up shop at YARD Theater, just off the 101 freeway at Melrose next to a Ukrainian Cultural Center — which had infectiously loud music going on the night I attended. Only eight intrepid souls at a time are allowed to solve these madcap, no-holds-barred trials. And why? So that we patrons will be released from the meaningless (or are they?!?) goings on that we watch and eventually participate in.

The scenes — lit with style by Sean Meyer — are based on the actual play, and they’re a real workout for the actors, who often have to repeat chunks of dialogue until we solve what we need to in order to move on, deliciously keeping us in existential hell, which — if you get to know the other players — can be high-paced and amusing, if not a bit wearying. Sometimes the game overtakes the great acting and vice versa. The engagement is largely the game, so I found myself distracted by clue-solving when I wanted to watch the indefatigable Chris Smith playing Fortune (based on the original Lucky), a slave to Ben Marcell’s Pizza (not Pozzo) — humorously playing him almost like a barker — and Justin Okin’s Gigi and William Salyers’ Dodo (replacing Didi & Gogo). A rotating cast is necessary for this run to be fresh at four performances a night.

On the surface, Waiting for Godot is about nothing at all. Deep down, however, it’s about everything. Not here. (Unless the people watching us from the back of the theater meant something.) It’s a super-clever concept, and certainly diverting, but I missed afterwards that there were no Ah-Ha moments that aid us in accepting the folly of mankind’s absurdity, or hit us in the gut, or move, touch, or inspire us. This is best for escape room lovers, especially at 50 bucks a pop. In the end, some of us are still waiting for… well, you know.

previous production photos by Anne Rene Brashier and Silvie Zamora

Escape From Godot
YARD Theater, 4319 Melrose Ave (@ Heliotrope)
Fri and Sat at 6, 7:30, 9 & 10:30; Sun at 4:30, 6, 7:30 & 9
ends on March 24, 2019
for tickets, visit Brown Paper Tickets

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