Regional Reviews: Philadelphia
Up and Waiting for Godot
Walter Griffin's flight took him up 16,000 feet in the air, and even though the voyage didn't last long, he got some notoriety (and an appearance on the David Letterman show) out of his stunt. Now it's fifteen years later, and Walter is an unemployed inventor. There's strain in his marriage to Helen, who supports the family by sorting mail at the post office, and in his relationship with their 15-year-old son Mikey. But Walter still dreams big, and still thinks his big break is just around the corner. His hero is Philippe Petit, the man who walked on a high wire between the Twin Towers; he symbolizes all the bravery and confidence that Walter wishes he had. (Petit is portrayed by circus performer Kyle Driggs, and Driggs' excursions on a high wire strung across the stage are very impressive, even though the harness that keeps him from falling is visible.)
Meanwhile Mikey, who mopes around complaining that "school sucks," changes his tune when he meets Maria, a free-spirited student who is expecting a child by her ex-boyfriend, "a Ken doll who could walk and talk and drive." Mikey soon ends up spending most of his time with Maria and her oddball Aunt Chris, and he blossoms under their roof in a way he couldn't at his constrained home, with parents he finds embarrassing. Things start looking up for both father and son when they both land jobs, but neither job turns out as expected.
Up goes through several mood shifts. It starts as a slice-of-life drama, then turns into a romantic comedy, then makes an abrupt turn into kitchen sink drama. The play takes too long to find its footing: Some of the plot twists are obvious and clunky, Carpenter's dialog doesn't have much zing, and much of act one is unfocused. (The final scene of act one, which shows nearly all the characters speaking at once in a cacophony that's hard to follow, is emblematic of this problem.) Yet just as Mikey starts to grow up, so does Up. In the play's second act, Walter, Helen and Mikey are forced to face reality, with tragic results. Walter suddenly devolves from sympathetic to just pathetic. But the drama that forces this change is absorbing and beautifully staged. Director Keith Baker handles the tonal shifts well, making the play feel unified. He's helped by Roman Tatarowicz's striking set design, which rotates a few set pieces on a turntable against a wide-open background.
Benjamin Lloyd is excellent as Walter, calm on the surface but hinting at turmoil below. So is Michelle Eugene as his wife, who gets to be the voice of reason in her battles with Walter. Jonathan Silver is endearing as their son, and Jo Twiss has nice moments as the wacky aunt. And Laura C. Giknis is a real sparkplug as Maria, getting the mixture of sexy and kooky just right. Maria and Mikey's relationship is poignant, and Giknis and Silver give the show its heart.
Up can't keep its balance nearly as well as Philippe Petit does. Yet it mostly works, thanks to its acknowledgement that dreams aren't always enough, even when they come true. Carpenter's play blends comedy and drama well, and director Baker provides some lovely imagery with his staging. And throughout it's suffused with a whimsical streak, thanks to the image of Petit, who hovers overhead, reminding Walter what he's capable of. What Walter doesn't realize is that his family would be better off if he were more grounded.
Up runs through April 4, 2010 at Bristol Riverside Theatre, 120 Radcliffe Street, Bristol, Pennsylvania. Ticket prices range from $29 to $37, with discounts available for students and groups, and are available by calling the box office at 215-785-0100, online at www.brtstage.org, or by visiting the box office.
Ross Beschler and Robert DaPonte play Vladimir and Estragon, the two hapless tramps waiting in vain for the mysterious Godot to make his entrance. The two actors play off each other very well, reveling in slapstick routines (some newly invented for this production) and Beckett's intricate wordplay. Charlie DelMarcelle is excellent as the mysterious and cocksure Pozzo; the whisper-to-a-scream inflections in his speech show how he wields control, and a routine in which he slides his body up and down within his overcoat is executed beautifully. As Pozzo's slave Lucky, Doug Greene seems less ridiculous than this character is often portrayed. Instead of walking hunched over, Greene strides upright, and his wide-eyed expression makes his long soliloquy in act one funnier than usual. The only casting error was the selection of a college-age actor, Julian Cloud, as the boya role usually played by a pre-teen. Having the boy's childish lines spoken by a fully grown man makes the boy seem either coy or stupid or both. It also pulls the play's focus away from the main characters, to the play's detriment.
Despite that misstep, this is an excellent, dynamic production of Waiting for Godot. Geffers has produced a nuanced production full of astonishing humor and unexpected insights. Having said that, it's still Waiting for Godota play whose stylized dialogue, long silences, deadpan wit, and cryptic themes have divided audiences for over half a century. What does it all mean? When does it take place? Why is it so repetitive? And what happens at the end? If finding out the answers to these questions is your primary concern, this probably isn't the play for you. But if you're willing to watch a group of talented artists search for life's meaning for a couple hours, you couldn't ask for better company on the road to nowhere.
Waiting for Godot runs through Sunday, March 28, 2010 and is presented by EgoPo Classic Theater at The Latvian Society of Philadelphia, 531 North Seventh Street. Ticket prices are $30 ($15 for students) and are available by calling 1-800-595-4TIX or online at www.egopo.org.
Photo: Joshua Wallace