For Harvard theater, the wait is finally over. Godot, or at least “Waiting for Godot” has finally made its first appearance in a Harvard-Radcliffe Dramatic Club production: its signature absurdism was showcased in four performances in the Loeb Drama Center’s Experimental Theater from April 14 to 16. The show, directed by Jan Luksic ’11, arrived with its familiar characters, set, and overall interpretation. Still, the wait felt far from stagnant. The play’s five-person cast brilliantly charged their characters with the heightened joy, anxiety, and pain that come from human interaction in a space that felt as confining as the characters’ own circumstances.
Samuel Beckett’s story—or lack thereof—centers around a perpetually delayed meeting between the titular character and two aimlessly wandering comrades, Didi (Christopher J. Carothers ’11) and Gogo (Peter K. Bestoso ’14). During their two days spent by a lonely tree in an unspecified region, Didi and Gogo discuss and sometimes argue the many perplexing elements of their lives and present situation. Each day they encounter the eccentric Pozzo (Ilker Oztop) and his psychologically damaged slave Lucky (Tony J. Sterle ’11). Collectively, they analyze their seemingly meaningless existence as well as their unbreakable ties to Godot and to each other.
Carothers and Bestoso mastered the roles of the goofy, bickering pals with constant awareness of one another. As the dependent, child-like half of the pair, Bestoso relied equally on body language and voice to express the frustration of feeling helplessly trapped in one’s own directionless life. Bestoso made simple movements, such as removing his shoes, hyperactive without feeling over the top, and voiced his complaints—“Why won’t you help me?” and “Someone gave me a kick!” in a strangely poignant whine.
Carothers, animated in his character’s anxiety, energized the occasionally lifeless classic with his rapid but articulate delivery. At times, however, Carothers’ exuberance got the better of his character, giving a sustained comic tone to lines that deserved more subtle treatment. But Carothers’ improvisational energy served him well; he gave a lengthy stare to a late audience member who walked blatantly into his line of sight and cracked a smile at Oztop’s awkward, desperate handstand.
Neither Carothers nor Bestoso, however, was truly able to connect with his character on stage until the second act, before which they took the backseat to Oztop’s entertaining but outrageous stage presence. In probably the most memorable performance in the show, Oztop dominated much of the first act with stomping motions, violent outbursts, and maniacal stares. But Oztop also demonstrated his versatility as an actor by quickly subduing hysteria and adding some physical comedy. When Oztop returned in the second act to play the now-blind Pozzo, he spent most of his time collapsed on the stage, performing protracted somersaults in his attempts to stand or crying for “pi-tee!” with perfect comic timing.
Fortunately, the second act belonged mostly to Bestoso and Carothers, so the leading actors could finally expand beyond the first act’s witty and fast-paced dialogue. Together they expressed the play’s poignant thoughts on friendship, life, and the isolation found in both. Carothers’ most emotionally powerful moment on stage may have been a scene in front of the lonely tree in which he asked, “Tomorrow when I wake, or think I do, what will I think of today?”
For all of the cast’s success on stage, most viewers familiar with Beckett probably recognized the story and its bewildering antics almost instantly. The most noticeable changes from a standard “Godot” production were probably the costumes of the characters, each a single color or shade, as well as the prominent placement of the iconic tree. Instead of standing upright on stage, the tree hung from the overhead rafters, creating a physical barrier for the actors with its large protruding branches. The tree, along with the audience sitting on either side of the stage and the large mirrors hanging at both ends, complemented the characters’ feelings of entrapment.
The placement of the stage, tree, and audience also worked well to involve the viewer in the story’s multiple plot and character loops. Whenever an actor exited the stage on one side he was sure to enter at the opposite end; actors circled the audience and distorted the normal rules of space and time. For all these innovations in staging, this “Godot” did not feel especially groundbreaking. Nonetheless, it was an effective—however conservative—rendition of a classic.