Mr. Beckett's menagerie of performing enigmas is now loose in the ballroom of the Commander Hotel, of all places. They are nasty little brutes, most of them, with none of the heartening docility of trained seals or tigers.
Their ringmaster is Jan Hartman'60, and in a sense his job is an easy one; it is difficult for an intelligent group of actors to go very far wrong with Waiting for Godot. The play is constructed of a series of savage ironies, with a vein of harsh pessimism running behind it and through it. So long as the ironies and the pessimism emerge, a director can take the play any way he likes, if he moves with intelligence and consistency.
For example, at the end of Act II Vladimir learns that the mysterious Godot has a white beard, and whispers "Christ have mercy upon us." In the recent all Negro production of Godot, Pozzo, who has just left the stage, has a white beard; Hartman's Pozzo does not. Beckett's text admits both devices, and both are effective.
Hartman's intelligence is manifest in the current production, but his consistency sometimes falters. Each of the several portrayals is excellent in its own right, but they do not always mesh as they might. Becklan Algren plays Gogo more or less naturalistically, with accent and gestures that would be equally appropriate to Waiting for Lefty. A recognizable human characterization lies behind his performance. Tony LoBianco's Vladimir seems, on the other hand, to have an abstraction behind it. The two men are professionals, and pursue their readings with great skill, but they do not always coordinate properly.
James Matisoff's conception of Pozzo lies somewhere between the two, and his presence on the stage gives the production more life and smoothness. As his slave Lucky, Terry Graham is at least adequate, but he should learn how to pant more convincingly.
Mechanically, the production is weak. The attempt to make Matisoff look bald makes him look like a victim of skull-fracture. The lights flicker at odd moments. The producers did not bother to procure a little boy for the messenger role. Happily enough, the almost dadaist spirit of the play accommodates any number of lapses like these, as long as the actors are as convincing as the current group.
The only serious technical lapse is unavoidable, given the site. Much of Godot is played lying down; since the ballroom floor is not pitched, only the first few rows can see the whole play.
All of the above begs the question every review must answer: is the play worth seeing? The answer, upon reflection, is yes. With its several flaws, Hartman's Godot stands up well when compared to the excellent all-Negro version. Matisoff may be even better than his opposite number was; only Graham falls far short, which merely proves that there are too few Geoffrey Holders in the theatre. And, after all, everyone should see Waiting for Godot at least once.