By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Mention Waiting for Godot and you will often get the sigh and the eye roll. Oh, that old thing. What is it about anyway? What does it mean? It's weird. It's long. It makes no sense.
The eye-rollers do have a point. Godot playwright Samuel Beckett provides a pretty accurate description of his now-classic 1949 absurdist work in a line in Act 1: "Nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes, it's awful!" And there you have it, except for that last part. Awful, no. Static, yes. Not much action in Godot's dialogue-heavy two and a half hours. The title character is mentioned repeatedly but never arrives. The leads, a pair of Chaplinesque tramps named Vladimir (nicknamed Didi) and Estragon (called Gogo), wait around anyway, jabbering about food, suicide, worn-out shoes, kidney problems and cloud formations. They talk, they nap, they dance and do hat tricks. They consider leaving and never do. A man named Pozzo shows up, shouting abuse and dragging his slave, ironically named Lucky, on a rope. Lucky speaks once, in a long, unintelligible, unpunctuated rant about government and religion. At the end of each act, a small boy enters and announces that Mr. Godot will not be keeping his appointment but surely will tomorrow. The end.
There is no plot, no denouement, no resolution. There is no set other than a stump and a sad little tree that sprouts a few leaves in Act 2. There is no music, no change of costumes. Godot, a play mostly about what people do to pass the time, exists in a world without time. It is odd, but funny and compelling. It contains moments that are hauntingly profound and profoundly disturbing.
There are good reasons to see a good Godot. But be prepared to work a little. What happens in Godot happens in the language, and it can be difficult to absorb. Listen closely and you hear influences of Joyce and Artaud. Beckett blew up traditional theatrical convention by keeping action almost ridiculously transparent and words confusing and explosive. He fooled around with dialogue, writing streams of nonsensical conversation and unexpected blurts of silliness such as "knook" and "quaquaquaqua." He's fond of "ooze" and "pus" and "arse." Beckett's words, all 53 pages of them, land on the ear with snap, crackle and pop.
Risk Theater Initiative, a new company, is staging a high-quaquaquality and slight knooky production of Waiting for Godotright now on the bare floor in a back room of Deep Ellum's Sons of Hermann Hall. The cast of five is young but solid, bringing some impressive maturity to their performances. Director Marianne Galloway and her actors understand Beckett's characters and juggle the difficult language beautifully, wisely avoiding any forced interpretation of the script. Instead, the actors deliver the lines with natural rhythms that make it all sound perfectly normal and logical, even when it's not. If at times they rush things a bit, chalk it up to youthful enthusiasm. They're having fun, and so are we as we watch them.
In the two leading roles, Scott Milligan (Gogo) and James Gilbert (Didi) make a cracking good comedy team. Gilbert and Milligan, Milligan and Gilbert. It even sounds right. Physical opposites, Gilbert (the thin one) and Milligan (who looks a bit like Jack Black) bring Abbott and Costello to mind during Beckett's version of the "Who's on first?'' routine:
Didi: Where are your boots?
Gogo: I must have thrown them away.
Gogo: I don't know.
Gogo: I don't know why I don't know!
Didi: No, I mean why did you throw them away?
Gogo: Because they were hurting me!
And round and round it goes. Godot was described long ago by a critic as "a mystery wrapped in an enigma.'' We are not meant to know precisely who these guys are or what they are talking about. Didi and Gogo might be souls caught in limbo, yearning for a God who never welcomes them. Or vagrants knocking around a barren city park until the shelter opens. They are as fidgety and rude and in love with their own voices as George Costanza and Jerry Seinfeld, waiting endlessly for a table in that Chinese restaurant. What they yammer on about is of no more or less importance than the cell-phone conversations we eavesdrop on in public or the unscripted logorrhea of reality-TV participants. We can't help getting caught up in it.
Joining Gilbert and Milligan in Risk's production are William Harper as Pozzo, R. Bradford Smith as Lucky and the noble little Collin Davis as The Boy. They're all good, turning in well-crafted, passionate performances. And the spare space at the back of Hermann Hall creates a serene, uncluttered atmosphere that fits the simplicity of Godot just fine.