Waiting for Godot

Estragon (Nathan Keepers) and Vladimir (Jim Lichtscheidl)
Photo by Michal Daniel

By MIRA REINBERG

Audiences and readers of Samuel Beckett have long since become aware that of all the different nuances that the playwright attributed to the meaning of responsibility, Beckett has never deemed it his task to attenuate the gravity with which he beheld life. He doled out his views of the absurdities and ruthlessness of our existence in a dish devoid of relishes and demanded that we withhold clinging to all conceptual crutches.

But perhaps not entirely. He was a consummate artist whose very genre embodies incontrovertible truths: the urgency of the creative act, the essential role of live enactment, and the imperative to generate interaction between performers and spectators. His art needed the living lifeline of the theatre.

This is the insight that is most strikingly manifest in this production of Waiting for Godot in the Jungle Theater. The proverbial stark set, designed by director Bain Boehlke, adheres to Beckett’s barren aesthetic, where even the rise of the evening moon signifies exhaustion and sterility: another fallow day of our life has evaporated in frustration. Godot has forfeited another coming. But on stage are Estragon (Nathan Keepers) and Vladimir (Jim Lichtscheidl), and their interaction is the antithesis to the desolation and abjection of the visual aesthetic of the play.

The conceptual framework – language, philosophy, mood – are Beckett’s through and through. But Keepers and Lichtscheidl enter the figures of the hungry tramps and succeed in activating the bleak and hopeless existential questions and in turning them from arcane ponderings into flesh and blood human interaction.  Estragon and Vladimir are two separate people whose long-time connection cannot be accounted for solely by their comparable predicament. Estragon’s flimsy rebelliousness comes forth as reluctant but grateful loyalty in Keepers’ rendering, and Lichtscheidl displays Vladimir’s exuberant attentiveness with a convincing measure of self-irony.

Beckett’s judgment of man’s cruelty is crystallized in the figures of Pozzo (Allen Hamilton), the rich aristocrat, and Lucky (Charles Schuminski), his subjugated bondservant. But Lucky is no lackey; the dynamic between the two represents the complex philosophical question of the relationship between the master and the slave and of the crushing interdependency they are mired in. The play opened in 1953 in the aftermath of the logical and ethical abyss in which Europeans found themselves after the barbarism of the Second World War had become apparent. But the play’s modernism is in its insistence on bespeaking the absurd vagaries which engulf our daily relationships – with our economic conditions, religious beliefs, and ideological convictions. Hamilton’s despotic Pozzo is crudely boisterous and the irrationality of his heartlessness marks this arbitrariness in treating other humans. Schuminski manages to convey the most contradictory in human spirit as he succumbs to Pozzo’s callous whims only to awaken, when permitted, and deliver a seemingly erudite speech.

Is it the agency of the human spirit that generates Lucky’s sermon or Estragon and Vladimir’s philosophical ruminations? Or have they all, while waiting for Godot to wiggle them out of the enduring dreariness of their existence, become automatons, set to react obediently to the ball and chain to which reality charges them?

This production has less of the tragic to it, perhaps due to Keepers and Lichtscheidl’s age, their performance lively and agile under Boehlke’s direction. Despite the debilitating and almost hallucinatory disappointment delivered by their savior’s little messenger, telling them that Godot will not come yet again, Lichtscheidl is all too real as he calls out, emphatically: “You saw me! Tell Mr. Godot!” We certainly did see him, his performance was no hallucination.

Waiting for Godot By Samuel Beckett. Directed by Bain Boehlke. At the Jungle Theater, 2951 Lyndale Avenue South, Minneapolis, Minnesota. August 24-September 30, 2012. Tickets at Box Office Phone: (612) 822-7063 or Box Office Email: boxoffice@jungletheater.com

 

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