Theater Review: WAITING FOR GODOT (Dennis Začek Productions at Victory Gardens in Chicago)

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by Lawrence Bommer on November 18, 2019

in Theater-Chicago

DÉJÀ VU MEETS GROUNDHOG DAY

“Birth was the death of him”: Terse to the point of cruelty, Samuel Beckett devours the human experience in six words, repeatedly juxtaposing graves with cradles. 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.

In two forlorn, co-dependent bums who define themselves by what doesn’t happen Beckett reduces hope to habit and persistence to folly. “Nothing to be done.” Or, as he later put it, “Nothing is funnier than unhappiness.” 45 years after its 1953 debut, Waiting for Godot thrills us as it flattens boxcars of aspirations about dignity and destiny into superb vaudeville. Dennis Začek’s confidently minimalist staging, which assembles veteran thespians in a literally timeless drama, 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. As they quibble (if only to prove they’re alive), mired in habit and endless déjà vu, they stand in for us. Every laugh that  this assemblage of vaudeville acts receives is at our expense. The joke is very much on us as these immobile wayfarers agitate over the past, aspire to a formless future — and totally miss the moment.

As the maternally protective and sententiously humanistic Vladimir, Larry Neumann Jr., a Chicago staple for decades, works overtime to hold onto what little reality they can agree on. Childishly free to whine rhapsodically, goofily clowning to pass the time (which, of course would pass anyway), Chicago favorite Mike Saad’s delightfully affected Estragon swoops down on every absurdity with perfect timing and a wicked rubber face. (Watch how he can look while chewing a carrot.)

As the intruders, Steve Pickering, employing a sinisterly smooth Southern accent, plays Pozzo with a pompous ferocity that forfeits sympathy when he suffers in the second act. Nima Rakhshanifar gives Lucky’s ragtag “thinking” tour-de-force a splendid, if unfocused, abandon. Cooper Hoyt is suitably dour as the taciturn boy who announces Godot’s serial cancellations.

Starkly pictorial, Patrick Kerwin’s surrealistically stylized set is a bland country road enlivened only by a bare and mysterious tree. When it manages to produce three leaves by the second act, the tree manages to accomplish more than the humans trapped beside it.

photos by Charles Osgood

Waiting for Godot
Dennis Začek Productions
Victory Gardens
Richard Christiansen Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave
Wed-Sat at 8; Sun at 4
ends on December 15, 2015
for tickets, call 773.871.3000 or visit VG

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Nikki Smith November 18, 2019 at 6:09 pm

Thanks for this fresh review of my favorite playwright and my favorite director.

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