Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: New Jersey

Two River Delivers First Rate Waiting for Godot

Also see Bob's review of The Beacon Hill Book Club

Keith Jochim and John Ahlin
Samuel Beckett's classic Waiting for Godot is at once simple and profound. It is both extremely funny and the ultimate tragedy. There is little plot and the events are repetitive, yet its scope is all encompassing. The protagonists, Estragon and Vladimir, are both real and symbolic (Beckett always denied that his characters were symbolic, so, perhaps, I should say universal and prototypical). More than a half century after its first performances, this wholly original avant-garde classic of the theatre of the absurd is, for some, involving, thought provoking, and accessible, yet, for others, it is stagnant and depressing. Along with the quite remarkable fact that this very demanding and sophisticated play is receiving an outstanding reading in the current incantation by the Two River Theatre Company in Red Bank, there is probably not much more that you need to know in order to decide whether or not you will want to attend. If you remain in doubt, I would urge you to see Godot, as well as to do so attentively throughout its two acts. If, at first, this unique play does not engage you, do not turn your mind off to it prematurely. Godot builds momentum in a manner that makes the second act funnier (actually riotously so) than the first. The second act also fully reveals the rich profundities whose seeds are planted before the intermission.

The landscape is a large mound with a forlorn leafless tree along a country road. Each of the two acts occurs during one of two successive evenings. Vladimir and Estragon, a pair of hobos who have seen better days, are awaiting the expected arrival of Godot. They are uncertain as to whether he will appear. It is never directly stated just who this Godot is. In the course of each act, Pozzo, a self important prosperous fellow, will arrive preceded by his servant, Lucky, whom he is driving by means of a long rope tied around the servant's neck. Also, a boy will twice arrive ostensibly with a message from Godot. And Estragon and Vladimir wait and wait.

A reasonable summary, but none such can give any indication of the depth and density of Beckett. Perhaps a quote from the text can help. When Pozzo returns in the second act, he is blind. As a result, Pozzo falls on the mound, and unable to get up by himself, he cries for help. If you read aloud Vladimir's response aloud, you will more likely note the humor and complex array of ideas in it:

Let us not waste our time in idle discourse! (Pause. Vehemently.) Let us do something, while we have the chance! It is not every day that we are needed. Not indeed that we personally are needed. Others would meet the case equally well, if not better. To all mankind they were addressed, those cries for help still ringing in our ears! But at this place, at this moment of time, all mankind is us, whether we like it or not. Let us make the most of it, before it is too late! Let us represent worthily for once the foul brood to which a cruel fate consigned us! What do you say? (Estragon says nothing.) It is true that when with folded arms we weigh the pros and cons we are no less a credit to our species. The tiger bounds to the help of his congeners without the least reflection, or else he slinks away into the depths of the thickets. But that is not the question. What are we doing here, that is the question. And we are blessed in this, that we happen to know the answer. Yes, in this immense confusion one thing alone is clear. We are waiting for Godot to come -

There is a good deal of Christian imagery present, but the overriding existential dilemmas of Godot are universal to all mankind. Interestingly, the Irish Beckett lived much of his adult life in France and originally wrote Godot in French (first published in 1952), later writing the English translation (published 1955) himself. I find it quite interesting that, as has been noted elsewhere, the original French title (En Attendant Godot) translated literally into English is While Waiting for Godot.

The Two River production is exemplary. Performing as a vaudeville style comic duo, Keith Jochim's Estragon resembles Stan Laurel in tandem with John Ahlin's Oliver Hardy-like Vladimir. Jochim is poignant in his more open dependency on their friendship and Ahlin is exceptionally funny in dominating Jochim. Neither ever overplay the comedy or extend the shtick to the detriment of the overall shape of the tragicomedy. Allen Lewis Richman (Pozzo), Chet Carlin (Lucky), and Brian Gilbert (A Boy) lend first rate support. Young Gilbert displays a poise and maturity in his performance rare in a child actor.

Director Seth Barrish has made excellent use of the deep stage as well as the aisles of the theatre to create a sense of a large barren landscape of loneliness and desolation while bringing intimacy to the proceedings. Barrish is greatly aided by the spacious and realistic scenic design of Harry Feiner. The design, especially the ominous dark blue sky backdrop, is enhanced by the lighting design of Aaron Copp. Completing the superior design work are the costumes of Moe Schell, those of which for Estragon and Vladimir realistically appear stained and grimy beyond the call of duty.

Two River has shown remarkable daring in presenting Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot during their first full season in their spanking new 349 seat theatre. Artistically, Godot is an unqualified success. Hopefully, area audiences will appreciate the artistic integrity, as well as the confidence in them, that this production represents.

(Waiting for Godot is being presented by the Two River Theatre Company as part of its Samuel Beckett Festival which includes two programs of one-act plays by Beckett and additional events. Please log on to the Two River website for details.)

Waiting for Godot continues performances (Eves.: Thurs.-Sat.-8 PM/ Mats: Sat. & Sun.-3 p.m. / Weds.- 3/22-8PM; 3/29-1 p.m.) through April 2, 2006 at the Two River Theatre, 21 Bridge Avenue, Red Bank, NJ 07701. Box office: 732-345-1400; online

Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett; directed by Seth Barrish

Cast (In Order Of Appearance):
Estragon…………..Keith Jochim
Vladimir................John Ahlin
Lucky………………..Chet Carlin
Pozzo…Allen Lewis Rickman
A Boy…………...Brian Gilbert

Photo: T. Charles Erickson

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