Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Waiting for Godot at the Mark Taper Forum

AUDIENCES WATCHED a silhouetted figure travel down a lonely road toward the stage as they waited for the play to begin.  Slowly and ominously, the figure approached the stage with a dreariness akin to the playwrights established sense of style.  Once he arrived, the lights dimmed and Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot" had begun.

Anybody who has spent a good deal of time as a director of plays knows that Samuel Beckett had a clear and particular vision for all his works.  Even after his death, the playwright made sure that his estate kept tabs on all of the major productions of his plays to ensure that they were done according to his vision.  For this reason, directors know that if they are going to do a Beckett play, they better do it right.  Fortunately for director Michael Arabian, critics and fans agree that his production of "Waiting for Godot" at the Mark Taper Forum was a smashing success.

You can tell by judging John Iancovelli's simplistic set that the emphasis was on dialogue and action.  Rocks bordered the barren stage that sported a single tree.  Arguably, the biggest set change was the single leaf that appears on the tree in Act II.  If Beckett was alive, I trust that he would have approved of this production at the Mark Taper Forum.  In a letter, Becket once wrote that the set was to be “a place of suffering, sweaty and fishy, where sometimes a turnip grows, or a ditch opens up.” Afraid that a highly aestheticized set would cause audiences to consider the play as an allegory, he emphasized that directors and set designers go for simplicity.  Clearly, Iancovelli and Arabian got the memo.

When it comes down to it, it was the acting that made this production so great.  The two key roles, Estragon and Vladimir, were played by Becket enthusiasts with great experience in taking on his tortured roles.  Alan Mandell, who plays Estragon with a surprising livelihood for an 84-year-old actor, is established as being one of the great Beckett actors of our time.  Similarly, Barry McGovern who plays Vladimir, has actually twice before taken up the role in well-received productions.  Perhaps the most surprising addition to the cast is Hugo Armstrong's wonderful portrayal of the very unlucky Lucky.  Armstrong's performance peaks at Lucky's incoherent monologue that excites madness and inspires great sympathy from audiences.

For Angelenos, "Waiting for Godot" offered an opportunity to see one of Beckett's great plays in rare form.  It is tough to expect a production of this quality anywhere far from Ireland these days, and Arabian's rendition surely did not disappoint.  We were reminded of the tender affection Beckett held for these characters affected by an existential crisis that everyone can relate to.

-- Carey Uhl
Photo taken from http://www.stageandcinema.com/2012/03/23/waiting-for-godot-mtf/

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