Following its highly-acclaimed premiere in the 2016 Galway International Arts Festival, Ireland’s Druid theater company closes its worldwide tour of the award-winning production of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot with a limited engagement in Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival. Performing at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College, the new re-envisioning of the mid-century classic, under the incisive direction of Garry Hynes (Druid’s Co-Founder), combines the play’s signature existentialist angst with slapstick comedy for a brilliant and affecting synthesis of philosophical and physical absurdism.
Aaron Monaghan and Marty Rea make for an impeccably matched pair (à la Laurel and Hardy) as the short and despondent Estragon (Gogo) and the taller and more positive Vladimir (Didi), “blathering about nothing in particular” to pass the time in their seemingly endless wait for the arrival of the enigmatic Godot. As they bicker and bond, try to remember and fail to understand, want to depart and contemplate hanging themselves but do neither, they bring both humor and pathos to the characters through their expressive intonations, spot-on timing, and gift for physical comedy. Consummately delivering the choreography by movement director Nick Winston, their emotive postures, gestures, and facial expressions recall the readily-legible acting of silent-movie stars (augmented by the play’s long pauses) and the hilariously exaggerated stylizations of old-time Vaudeville (especially amusing are the scenes of Gogo and Didi switching hats, removing boots, walking around the stage, and looking out into the distance, all perfectly synchronized and flawlessly executed).
Also outstanding in their supporting roles are Rory Nolan as the imperious Pozzo and Garrett Lombard his tethered slave Lucky. At first condescending and sadistic, Nolan’s demeanor changes from cruel and condescending to weak and needy, as his moral blindness to Lucky’s plight and his own abhorrent behavior transforms into actual sightlessness in the second act. And when the ironically-monikered Lucky is ordered by Pozzo to think (the only time he is given to speak), such a frenetic non-stop jumbled academic oration issues from Lombard’s mouth (one of the comedic highlights of the show) that he makes us wonder why the obedient minion has never spoken up in his own defense (for which he is later stricken with total muteness).
Francis O’Connor’s raggedy costumes evoke the distressed state of the two main characters and Lucky, in contrast with the better-dressed Pozzo; and his set (which recalls a desolate Surrealist painting by Salvador Dalí) captures the boredom and barrenness inherent in their interminable wait, with just a leafless tree (here made of rusting metal nails), a desiccated and cracked ground, and an egg-shaped rock on which Estragon sits but never hatches. The empty mood is augmented by James F. Ingalls’ cold grey lighting and blue night sky illuminated by the chilly whiteness of a full moon, with some passages of sepia and lilac tones that suggest occasional touches of the warmth in life, and Gregory Clarke’s sound design provides a disquieting noise as time passes and the scenes shift from day to night. Again.
Profound and ridiculous, Druid’s stellar production of Waiting for Godot is a testament to the exceptional talents of the director, actors, and design team, and provides a reaffirmation of the power of Theater of the Absurd in making us think about our inescapable mortality and questioning the purpose of our existence. “Such is life.”
Running Time: Approximately two hours and 35 minutes, including an intermission.