Don’t miss the superb current revival of Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” starring Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart at the Cort Theater on Broadway. It is in rotating rep with a play by Harold Pinter “No Man’s Land” which seems tepid by comparison. The quartet of players, McKellan, Stewart and American actors Billy Crudup and Shuler Hensley, soar into theatrical heaven with “Godot,” a play I’ve never liked or understood. Until now.
In a blasted post-apocalyptic landscape, two hobos( or today’s parlance would dub them homeless people) we find Estragon (McKellan) utterly bedraggled and sometimes bootless and his companion, the ever-so-slightly more dapper Vladimir (Stewart) waiting for Godot. Who is some one or some thing they don’t know and never find out about. But they keep hoping they do. And they keep waiting and waiting and waiting. And that’s the plot.
McKellan and Stewart are at their absolute zenith of their combined talents, as they entertain us and each other mightily, while waiting for SOMEthing to happen. They have each other. And a tree with no leaves, and the tattered clothes on their backs, rags, really. Dusty, crusty. They’re frightening to look upon.
But you end up just loving them. Because they make you laugh. At the utter absurdity of everything.
That’s something that I never thought of “Godot” as, being a supremely entertaining comedy. It was just one laugh after the other, surprising and delighting the audience. As Vladimir and Estragon keep entertaining each other, as they wait and wait and quarrel and make up again and consider suicide and reject it and wait.
Finally something DOES happen in the scarifying persona of the outsized blow-hard Pozzo (Hensley) and his hideous, pathetic captive scarecrow Lucky( a nearly unrecognizable Crudup).
Vladimir and Estragon think that this ovewhelming personage MUST be Godot. But then decide he isn’t. He doesn’t know who they are and they don’t know who he is.
And Hensley is so revolting and despicable and hugely fat as Pozzo that the two bums become almost attractive by comparison.
And in the second Act things do change, but to reveal just how magnificently they’re embodied by this quartet of great actors, all four at the peak of their powers, in both plays would be to spoil a lot of the fun for the 1% of you that aren’t already familiar with “Godot.”
I now see for the first time ever through the combined artistry of these Four Horseman of the Apocalyptic(Theater) just WHY Samuel Beckett’s difficult, dense, infuriating play is the existential classic that it has always been considered. And it’s an anthem, a subtle anthem to hope.
“No Man’s Land” by Harold Pinter seems almost picayune by comparison.
A rich man Hirst (Stewart) encounters a less squalid ne’er-do-well, Spooner (McKellan) Less squalid as his Bum of Bums, Estragon in “Godot” on Hampstead Heath, a notorious gay pick-up ground. Was that what Pinter was implying by starting the play with this unexplained meeting? I wonder? In any case, Hirst brings Spooner home to his grand mansion of a house and it turns out that Spooner is a poet and then also so is Hirst, and that they actually knew each other at university. But Spooner didn’t like Hirst…and so it goes…a rather pallid reflection of “Godot” in certain thematic senses.
Crudup and Hensley are consigned to supporting enigmatic servant/thugs in “No Man’s Land” and we never quite find out why. Or who they really are.
At the end of “Godot” the entire audience was standing and cheering loudly with many curtain calls and “Bravos!” filling the air. That didn’t happen with “No Man’s Land.” So if you have to choose between the two choose “Godot.” It’s worth the wait.