“Nothing happens. Nobody comes. Nobody goes. It’s awful!”
When Samuel Beckett gave those words to a character in his 1952 play Waiting for Godot, he surely realized that they would mirror the thoughts of much of the audience. That’s one of the delights of watching Godot, recognizing that its author was thinking of the audience with each and every unconventional line: teasing them, taunting them, challenging them—but also frequently delighting them. Waiting for Godot, after all, is a comedy. The irony of those lines, early in the script, is as funny as the play itself.
In an immaculate, beautifully stylized new staging now running at the Marin Theatre Company, director Jasson Minadakis works wonders, striking the perfect balance between laughter and heartache.
On an empty road with little more than a rock and a tree to gaze at, two disheveled, Bowler-hatted friends, Estragon and Vladimir, await the imminent arrival of someone named Godot. It is not clear how long they’ve been waiting for Godot, or what will happen once Godot arrives. But until he does, their lives, such as they are, are on hold.
The rich, detailed dialogue, like the world’s longest “Who’s on First?” routine, is perfectly paced by Minadakis, whose committed cast work wonders with the twisty text.
An excellent Mark Bedard, acclaimed for his work with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, plays Vladimir as a man whose brain is always at work—even though his bladder is not. Adopting a constant feet-to-the-floor shuffle, Bedard never lets us forget the physical discomfort of his character. As Estragon, Mark Anderson Phillips is wonderful, bringing a childlike innocence to his role, alternating between bright flashes of optimism (“Let’s go!” he brightly suggests, often) and deep despair at realizing that he must continue to wait and wait and wait.
The imperious Pozzo (a mesmerizing James Carpenter) and his world-weary servant Lucky (Ben Johnson, astonishing), help to break the monotony of Estragon and Vladimir’s long day. But even they appear to be trapped in a cycle of endless repetition.
Is it all a metaphor for life? A theatrical Rorschach test? A paradoxical parody of the absurdities of existence?
But it’s also the simple story of two longtime friends questioning whether they’d be better off apart than together, ultimately recognizing that tiny everyday surprises—those little occurrences that make today different from yesterday—are what make it possible to face our tomorrows, and that facing them together might be better than facing them alone.