Sunday, September 24, 2017

Waiting, waiting, waiting for Godot

I had a chance to catch the current production of Waiting for Godot at Soulpepper.  I decided that, since I had seen this play in two earlier productions, I just didn't feel like paying $60+ dollars, so I went the rush ticket route.  I had planned on going last Thursday, but work got in the way yet again.  So I thought I would try for Friday, even though I had relatively low expectations of getting in.  Nonetheless, there were quite a few available seats (and not only in the first two rows!), so I plunked my money down.

I should admit up front that I was not in the very best of moods and not completely receptive to the play, just because I was tired out from a long week.  I kind of was going out of a sense of obligation, which does dampen things a bit.  And this Beckett play is sort of a bleak masterpiece, but is fairly inert for long stretches.  I caught myself nearly nodding off at a couple of points, at least until Pozzo and Lucky show up.  What is somewhat different about this production is that somewhere around the midway point of the first act and through most of the second act, the two leads tried to amplify the situation, so for instance anytime that Vladimir says they can't go since they are waiting for Godot, Estragon shouts wildly rather than groans, which is the "approved" approach in the stage directions.  There was also a fair bit of physical interaction between the two -- perhaps out of character for two completely world-weary characters.  I was also a bit taken aback at just how roughly they treated the boy at the end of Act I (and was somewhat glad that I hadn't taken my son after all).  I was also a bit worried for the actor playing Lucky, as Pozzo really was yanking his rope fairly hard, even if he did move with the rope, anticipating the blows as it were.  In general, the play has a lot more shouting going on in Act II than I recall from other productions, which personally I thought was a mistake.  This means there is less distance between Pozzo (who does shout a lot) and the other characters. 

On the other hand, when Lucky goes into his long thinking speech, the production also departs from the stage directions, so it was slower and far more intelligible than other productions.  I thought this was actually a good thing, and this is probably the best Lucky I have seen, or at least the most memorable.  Pozzo was quite good, though I think I still preferred Brian Dennehy in the Goodman production (that then transferred to Stratford in 2013, where/when I caught it).  Still, as an overall piece, the best production I have seen was in Chicago (Remy Bumppo) all the way back in 1998.  (I probably have mentioned more than once that I was supposed to see Godot in Vancouver at The Cultch, but the lousy directions on their website caused me to get lost, so I just went home.  Now that I think about it, that might make a good short piece.)  Somehow I just wasn't as gripped by the main duo and their fate, however, though I should say this is likely partly due to my general exhaustion.  When all four characters were on stage, the play really came alive, but I just wasn't as interested when it dropped back to Vladimir and Estragon.*

Overall, I thought this was a good, but not stellar, production, so I am a bit surprised at the raves it is getting from critics in the industry (aside from the Globe and Mail, which was surprisingly negative**).  I would certainly recommend going if one hasn't seen the play live, but it may not live up to one's expectations if one has already seen it.  (And maybe the rush ticket route is the way to go.)  I suspect this is my last time round with this play (diminishing returns and all that), but never say never.

* To be completely frank, it felt to me Diego Matamoros and Oliver Dennis (or the director) were a bit bored with these characters and tried to change things up and push the boundaries so they aren't such static parts, but I thought that was a mistake.

** I just came across another highly critical review of the Soulpepper production, and while I don't agree with everything said here, I do agree that the production felt interminable and that there was something off between the main duo.  I also had already noted that Pozzo was fairly intriguing and that this was the most distinctive (and memorable) approach to Lucky I have seen.  I can well understand why Soulpepper doesn't link to this review.

The play that I am really trying to see (Beckett's Happy Days) just is not in standard rotation at all.  Endgame, which itself only has rare sightings, is still produced more often.  The only production of Happy Days this entire season was out in Vancouver at UBC.  I came very close to flying out to see that and do a few other things, but the flight prices just never came down to the point it was a reasonable decision.  I guess I'll just have to keep hoping it turns up somewhere nearby next season.  While it isn't as "deep" as Godot, it is a bit more amusing, so I am also hoping to see Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead again.  It looks like Soulpepper put it on one year before I moved to Toronto (drat), but then I somehow missed a production at the Annex Theatre in 2015.  So that's on me to try not to miss it the next time it turns up.

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