Waiting for Godot Theatre Review - A Noise Within's 2010 Opener of Beckett's Absurdist Classic is Worth the Wait

 

Gogo and Didi (Joel Swetow and Robertson Dean) try to hide

(Glendale, CA) January 16, 2010 – Let’s cut to the chase right now: Godot---the enigmatic, unseen character of the play Waiting for Godot---is not God. Ever since its debut at the Theatre de Babylone in Paris almost 60 years ago, Samuel Beckett’s absurdist classic of two hobos endlessly waiting for their mysterious benefactor (or tormentor) has been puzzling theatre lovers for decades, resulting in them usually concluding that Godot must symbolize God. But esteemed drama critics, literary academics, and Beckett himself have indicated that Godot is not God. And that is the beauty of the play: Beckett’s minimalist style has the uncanny power to force the viewer to judge what the play symbolizes. Oftentimes, their conclusions are a reflection of themselves, like a theatrical Rorschach test. And depending on the venue and the production, the experience can either be breathtaking or meandering, even self-indulgent if they make the show more abstract and plodding, which does nothing more than annoy the theatre-goer (like a production of Godot at The Raven Theatre six years ago in North Hollywood).

But fortunately, at one of Southern California’s esteemed repertory theatres, the genius behind Beckett’s masterpiece is displayed for all to see during its limited two week run. For the third year in a row, A Noise Within’s WAITING FOR GODOT is a pleasurable, absurdist tradition of smooth direction and frenetic, nuanced acting.

 

Pozzo (Mitchell Edmonds, right) pontificates as Lucky (Mark Bramhall) rests

On a dirt covered, modest stage that contains a couple of boulders and a wilting tree, as well as a being illuminated by a coastal horizon backdrop (beautifully created by scenic designer Michael C. Smith), stand two hobos, Vladimir---aka Didi ( Robertson Dean) and Estragon---aka Gogo ( Joel Swetow), who are waiting for Godot, a man of great importance. The reasons are never established, but the play’s importance is how they make use of their time: they discuss religion, they insult each other, they question their existence, they talk and they wait in pregnant periods of silence. It is indicated that this is their usual routine day after day, until a boisterous aristocrat Pozzo ( Mitch Edmonds) and his leashed slave Lucky (a sad and sympathetic Mark Bramhall) make an appearance in each act that show the disturbing facets of their symbiotic---if not parasitic---relationship. And at the end of each act, a boy appears (an endearing Owen Sholar), claiming to be under Godot’s employment. He states to the duo that Godot will not show up that day, but he will without a doubt appear the next day. And what intensifies the duo’s irritation is the boy has no recollection of seeing them in previous days, producing an almost hell-like sensation to their predicament.
 

Gogo and Didi (Joel Swetow and Robertson Dean) listen to Pozzo's (Mitchell Edmonds) heart

Expert pacing is essential in order for the play to maintain the audience’s attention, especially in the second act where, in lesser hands, it would feel like a redundancy of its predecessor. But Andrew Traiser’s direction is flawless where the journey these characters go through is cyclic, but never overtly repetitious or dragging. With regard to the acting, Robertson Dean’s Didi is the contemplative, dominant member of the duo. He tries to apply reason to a chaotic situation in an effort to calm his companion, but only fails in the end, adding more to Gogo’s anger and to his own puzzlement. In the second act, Dean gives a soliloquy regarding their situation that is the most poignant moment in the play. On the other end of the behavioral spectrum is Swetow’s intensely neurotic Gogo, who fidgets endlessly as he impatiently waits for their savior Godot. A man haunted by nightmares, he counterbalances Didi’s intellect with his own emotional explosiveness. His sunken eyes squint in pain at the uncertainty of their situation, as Didi looks on helplessly---a very heartbreaking performance by Swetow. However, they do share humorous moments to pass the time, such as a hilarious hat exchange, as well as a series of insults spoken in machine-gun speed, ending with Gogo inflicting the worst verbal slur ever known in the history of theater when he refers to Didi as---gasp---a critic (the audacity)! Dean’s and Swetow’s comic timing and chemistry is impeccable, and Edmonds’ egotistical Pozzo is a scene-stealer as he humorously pontificates individual rights, time, slavery, and blindness with such nonsensical ease that when he left the stage during the first act, he received an applause from the audience.

This production has been reprised for the last two years to sold-out houses. Next year, A Noise Within will be relocating to a larger space in Pasadena. We can only hope that the theatre company will continue this tradition in portraying the farcical poignancy of Beckett’s classic, enhancing the theatrical experience even more.
 

Gogo (Joel Swetow) is weary of Didi's (Robertson Dean) talking and waiting for Godot


 
 
Waiting for Godot will be running Jan 16 through Jan 24, 2010.
A Noise Within
234 South Brand Boulevard
Glendale, CA 91204

online: www.anoisewithin.org

Photos by: Craig Schwartz

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