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This Play Keeps Us Waiting

Waiting for Godot Directed by Leo Cabranes-Grant At the Cabot Underground Theater Through April 27

By Carey Monserrate

The Cabot House Drama Society ventures into modernist territory with a production of Samuel Beckett's Waiting For Godot. Though the show boasts many moments of fine acting, director Leo Cabranes-Grant does not quite bring this cast successfully through the play's admittedly difficult text.

Beckett's play was originally written in French and premiered as En Attendant Godot in 1953. Immediately recognized as a masterpiece of postwar theatre, Godot remains the most inspired and poignant articulation of the perplexity and pathos of life in the modern age.

Beckett was a friend and occasional secretary of his countryman and fellow High Modernist James Joyce, and Beckett's text echoes that author's characteristic wit and precision. In a sense the play is a dramatic translation of Joyce's project--the static narration of a moment of consciousness, undertaken merely for its own sake, without regard for the conventional rules of narrative or dramatic representation.

Audiences unfamiliar with the play will be surprised to find that in the course of its two acts nothing actually happens--there is no plot, no intrigue and no denouement. The play's "message," if there is one, could be summed up in its opening line: "Nothing to be done."

Two vagrants, Vladimir (Marc Jones) and Estragon (Dave Ardell), pass the time near a tree by the side of a country road, waiting for Godot. The reason for the appointment is never given. A passerby named Pozzo (Philip Munger) eventually strolls by with Lucky (Mark Fish), his slave. Later a boy enters to relay the message that Godot will come tomorrow, "Tomorrow" is the second act, but Godot never arrives.

In the absence of a plot, the play's strength naturally lies in its terse, comic and frequently moving dialogue. Vladimir and Estragon engage in an endless exchange of aphorisms and meditations that range from somber and melancholy to grotesque and inane. They are slapstick hobos in bowler hats and rags, lifted from the innocent genre of the cabaret and set down in the bizarre world of Beckett's imagination. They celebrate the play's nothingness and stasis through repeated gestures and expressions of absurdity.

Godot is a difficult play to pull off successfully. With no plot and a minimal set, the text demands that the actors maintain a high level of energy to sustain dramatic interest. The Cabot production succeeds on this count more often than it fails. Jones turns in an engaging performance as Vladimir, the more flighty of the two derelicts. Striking comic postures that require yogic flexibility, he attacks his lines with the right degree of mania and pathos. His lanky frame and expressive face effectively contrast the countenance of his counterpart, Estragon.

As Estragon, Ardell enjoys an easy rapport with Jones on stage. Sporting a dirty leather jacket, a filthy sweatband and a five o'clock shadow, Ardell looks like Indiana Jones after a forage through the mud. He delivers a strong and energetic performance, though his dramatic range tends to diminish as the play progresses.

Considering that this show runs for a grueling three hours, such fatigue is not surprising. This length is needless and avoidable. Director Cabranes-Grant should have kept the dialogue clipping along. Instead, the actors tend to linger over scenes of slapstick buffoonery. Both acts take an inordinately long time getting to the first line of dialogue, and the first act itself takes two hours to complete. If the pace of the play had been consistently faster, pauses would have contrasted more effectively and produced a stronger production.

Munger offers a passable performance as Pozzo, though he tends to slip in and out of an English accent from line to line. Munger also lapses into repetitive mannerisms that limit his character's depth. As Lucky, Fish offers a hilariously disturbing rendition of his character's famous speech in the first act. Jung A-Choi gives a monochromatic performance as Godot's messenger, adding little to the show.

The Cabot Underground Theatre presents tremendous difficulties for lighting and set designers, since it is essentially a basement with low ceilings and no stage. As a result, Mike Hill's lighting for Godot is pretty poor. Production staffer Marc Friedman built an unremarkable set, consisting of little more than objects arranged to conceal the pillars of the basement. Although the spartan set conforms to Beckett's stage directions, it contributes little to the production. The costumes are also adequate but merit no special attention.

Given the difficulty of Beckett's text, the Cabot production of Waiting for Godot cannot be considered a failure. The play sports a few good moments and some excellent acting, but the sluggish pace and protracted staging prevent this production from being any more than a marginal success.

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