‘Waiting for Godot’ Review - Characters Pass Time, Surpass Time in Smartly Produced Classic at Court Theatre

Alfred Wilson, Allen Gilmore

Samuel Beckett’s “En Attendant Godot” was avant-garde when it premiered in French in Paris in 1953. “Waiting for Godot” was still ahead of its time two years later, when it premiered in English in London, translated by the Irish playwright, a longtime resident of Paris. Now, more than 60 years later in its current incarnation at Court Theatre, “Godot” seems truly of its time — and truly timeless.

Alfred Wilson, Anthony Lee Irons, Allen Gilmore, A.C. Smith

Credit Ron OJ Parson with bringing Beckett’s words to life in a production that succeeds at every level. Parson does more than direct his superbly talented cast: he essentially choreographs their every movement in this kinetic tragicomedy, coaxing out its vaudevillian roots to maximum effect.

 

Even before the actors take the stage, we know we are in good hands. The design specs for “Godot” are deceptively simple: A road. A tree. Ah, but what a road and what a tree scenic designer Courtney O’Neill and crew have crafted. The grungy pavement and defeated grass have been trodden into submission; the leafless tree branches suggest crippled human limbs. Atmospheric lighting by Lee Keenan creates the effect of infinite space, of being anywhere and nowhere. 

 

(front) Allen Gilmore, Alfred Wilson (back) Anthony Lee Irons, A.C. Smith

 

When the play’s two main characters, Estragon and Vladimir, appear on the set, they seem to have floated in from outer space, absurdist astronauts detached from Mother Earth. They know one another, and yet they don’t really know one another. They are strangers one moment, practically an old married couple the next.

 

Allen Gilmore, Alfred Wilson, A.C. Smith, Anthony Lee Irons

 Parsons chose African American actors for the all-male cast, an experiment first tried in a 1957 Broadway revival curtailed by a union dispute. “I wanted to do something the Black community could get involved in — but not in the most stereotypical way,” Parsons says in a program note in which he alludes to issues of identity and social justice. That conceit lends itself to a play like “Godot,” set in what seems like a parallel universe, just as members of marginalized populations may feel they are living apart. 

 

Allen Gilmore, Alfred Wilson

In any case, Parsons has chosen the right cast. Alfred H. Wilson is masterful as Estragon (“Gogo”), his grizzled beard falling against his caved chest, a rope belt suspending his ragged pants, his hands picking apart his dilapidated shoes. Nan Cibula-Jenkins’ costumes, which appear to be made of tattered thread and dust, strike the right, atonal, note.

 

Allen Gilmore

Allen Gilmore as Vladimir (“Didi”) is a perfect foil for Wilson, an energetic dance partner in a porkpie hat willing to prop up his lethargic mate when necessary. Gilmore’s wonderful singing voice imbues a musical interlude with Shakespearean resonance. Their verbal exchanges, in Beckett’s off-kilter metric, redefine dialog. Near the end of the play, that back-and-forth has become so entrenched that it takes only one character to deliver a dialog, as Gogo says in one breath: “Let’s go. We can’t. Aaaawww.” 

 

Allen Gilmore, Alfred Wilson, A.C. Smith

But these two are not the only characters in “Waiting for Godot.” Joining them midway through the first act is the sadomasochist duo of Pozzo (the intimidating A.C. Smith) and the mostly mute Lucky (Anthony Lee Irons). A loose noose around Lucky’s neck suggests his status as Pozzo’s slave, but it is a role that can be instantly reversed. When Lucky is finally allowed to speak, he launches into a frenetic patter whose super-fluency is frightening, all of it accompanied by a mutated moonwalk. The whirling dervish can only collapse after his outburst, a theatrical tour de force by Irons. Registering on a lighter note is the part of Boy, nicely played by Alex Henderson/Oscar Vasquez III.

Parson’s “Godot” is provocative and entertaining all at once. At the end of the first act, Didi remarks of Lucky’s frenzy: “That passed the time.” Gogo replies: “It would have passed anyway.” Didi retorts: “Yes, but not so rapidly.” Indeed. 

Waiting for Godot

Through Feb. 15, 2015

Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis Ave., Chicago; free garage parking evenings

2 hours, 45 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission

Tickets $45–$65 (student rush tickets available) at (773) 753-4472 or Court Theatre

Pre-theater dining suggestion: Matthias Merges’ A10, on the corner of 53rd St. and Harper Ave., offers sublime small plates

Photos: Michael Brosilow

 

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