REVIEW: WAITING FOR GODOT at the Arvada Center
by Devon James
“Let us do something, while we have the chance! It is not every day that we are needed….To all mankind they were addressed, those cries for help still ringing in our ears! But at this place, at this moment of time, all mankind is us, whether we like it or not. Let us make the most of it, before it is too late!” ― Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot
Often we, as humans, take for granted the space between each defined moment in our lives. We recognize the pivotal, but what do we do with the mundane? For me, WAITING FOR GODOT challenges us to make our moments count. It presses upon us not to become trapped by repeating our inner struggles time and again, but to take charge of our lives and be intentional with our thoughts. Published in 1949, En attendant Godot, as it was originally called, has remained a pinpoint for revolutionary theatre. This absurdist piece lacks a conventional through line and character development, and allows for a plethora of interpretation from the political to religious. Because of this seemingly lack of structure, taking on the challenge of producing a play of this kind can be risky. WAITING FOR GODOT is widely known for its intermission walk outs and its challenging ability to “land” with audiences worldwide. So why does it continue to have such a shelf life and relevance? Why do theatres continue to take these risks? As an artist myself, I can tell you THAT is the point of theatre. While it is so wonderful to celebrate the lightness, musicality, and beauty of life, it is equally important that we challenge ourselves to dig deeper. We need to ask questions, and be confronted with all that life presents: the good, the bad, the ugly, and the absurd. I think Samuel Beckett got that. I believe this play is a slap in the face to wake us up; to lean our bodies in a little closer. I think he wanted to say, “The story on stage is not as important as what is going on in the space between your ears. Wake up. Think. Be alive.” At least, this is one takeaway of infinite possibilities.
The Arvada Center’s production and Geoffrey Kent’s Direction is a solid representation of this magical work of art. Kent will tell you that this was a collaborative production, and I absolutely believe him. With the caliber of talent hired on and off the stage, it would have been a great waist of brilliance to not allow these seasoned professionals the opportunity to fully explore their capabilities. However, this play is one that must come with a vision and Kent has exactly the clean, calculated, and relevant eye this play needed to get it off to a successful start. He is certainly an actor’s Director and you will find clues of that with how he is able to so ingeniously craft unforgettable moments (aka: the letter toss). From the instant you walk in, you feel that sense of “waiting.” The ambiance that the Master Designers have created is absolutely stunning. Shannon McKinney’s lighting is full and captivating. She has such a soft edge to her work. I love how she so effortlessly gravitates your eye to a picture and rounds off the edges to fully hug the moment. Jason Ducat brings his creative eye to the ear by crafting completely original accompaniment. The echoing technique he uses plays to the idea that this is a world within; much like when we hear our own voices when our ears are submerged in water. Meghan Anderson Doyle has an awe-inspiring skill and love for detail. Her aesthetic goes above and beyond the boundaries of completion. Doyle can take the simple act of “wearing out a sock,” and turn it into a constellation of holes that clearly tell a story of the life the garment has lived. To me, that is the signature of a true Pro. Perhaps one of the most challenged Designers was Brian Mallgrave. When taking on the task of “Set Design” for the Black Box Rep, he also signed on to a bit of Wizardry. What some people may not know is that the set of GODOT, and the sets of two other shows in the Rep season, (DROWNING GIRLS & BUS STOP) had to be interchangeable. His creativity had to span between three different shows and he was faced with finding their commonality and weave these completely different productions together by at least a single thread. Having seen all three of those shows, I can tell you with certainty he blew that task out of the water (DROWNING GIRLS pun). Each set is its own world, and GODOT is a world like none other. I love that he takes a tree, what could be a sightline issue, and coverts it into instead another possible metaphor for the gaps between each noteworthy mentions of our lives. As thoughts grow from emotion, so reflects Mallgrave’s design. Each set piece looks as if it had been planted there with the floor bursting around each of the rooted objects. What takes place in this isolated and unworldly atmosphere is nothing short of organized, chaotic artistry. From the first word, we know we are about to embark on a very different reality. Scrutchins addresses the audience with a message from our awaited GODOT, and implores our immersion into the piece by the submersion of a cell phone. Tim McCracken (Etragon) and Sam Gregory (Vladimir) lead this piece as our two constants. The play centers on their personal “waiting” of Godot and the absurdity that surrounds that simple action. Both actors are incredibly focused, thorough in their choices and absolutely spot on with their timing. Their best comedic moments are reminiscent of the great clowning duo “Laurel and Hardy,” and they play upon each other like our own personal good/evil duos. Neither are necessarily fully one or the other. They simply take turns holding the other back and convincing the other to continue on, making excuses, humoring, etc. They are OUR inner constants. They are the soul within us we need to convince to work together to finally escape our inner purgatory. McCracken brings his heart to absolutely everything he does, but what I thought was so mesmerizing about this particular performance was the stillness and gravity he brought to Estragon. McCracken’s genuine and relatable self-loathing paints a clear picture of each of us when we feel stuck and helpless. Gregory has a keen sense for delivery and nails the rhythm with deliberate ease. He delivers Vladimir as the fire, motivational, and humorous character of the two, but also empathetically portrays Vladimir’s deep fear of loneliness. Josh Robinson as “Lucky” was practically unrecognizable. He brought such a rooted strength to a character that appears weak and controlled. For me, Lucky represents that part of us we willingly shackle. We have all the ability and means in the world to rid ourselves of the baggage we carry, but we continue carrying it all the same. Beckett tosses a labyrinth of challenges at his actors, but Lucky’s monologue is an absolute beast. It’s like OCD, Tourette’s syndrome, and Shakespeare had a party in Lucky’s mouth. However, Robinson roped that wild animal into a tamed, centered, purposeful exploration of dialogue. Sam Gilstrap is a new face to the Arvada Center. His Pozzo seemed to signify the sexuality within us all and our daily efforts to control it. In one scene we are confident and powerful with who we are, and in the next we are blind to ourselves. With sexuality, of course, comes the inevitable baggage we drag around (que scene partner, Lucky). Unlike every other character in the play, “Boy” endearingly and terrifyingly played by Scrutchins has no visible partner. His “brother” is off tending to the sheep, or is he? Scrutchins’ character poses in my mind our chosen innocence. Are we really as naive and clueless as we seem, or is it a manipulation tactic we use to keep ourselves standing still? Does he represent the part of us that is always saying, “If (blank) happens, we’ll be ready to do (blank)”? Sean does a fantastic job of using the power of subtlety. He leaves you guessing just how honest and powerless he truly is. As for “Godot,” or should I say, GODot…what is this character? Where are they? Why are we waiting and how LONG are we going to be waiting? Some people might find themselves asking similar questions in regards to GOD. How often have you kept yourself in one spot “waiting for a sign,” or because you thought, “that is what I am supposed to do”? What if we take control of our own destiny? What if we choose to not only say we are going to break free from our unhealthy, stagnant cycles, but ACTUALLY do it? It is messages like those that make this play endlessly relevant and one of the most compelling pieces in modern times. Surely the most fascinating element is that what I have written is one perspective. The responses and takeaways are limitless and none are wrong. This, I feel, was Beckett’s true mission. If I had one fault to point out, it would be directly towards our late Beckett himself. His refusal and outright objection to women in these roles is a subject I would love to have personally discussed. It seems to me that if this is meant for humanity as a whole, then gender should not take away, but only allow for an opportunity for further relevance and enhancement. What say you, Beckett?.. I’m waiting.
WAITING FOR GODOT at the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities runs between now and 5/20/17. For more information go to: arvadacenter.org.