Waiting for Godot at the Serca Festival: a review

K. Brian Neel and Jeff Page in Waiting For Godot, from One World Theatre. Photo supplied.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

“It’s too much for one man,” says Vladimir gloomily of the perpetual stalemate that gets to the heart of the matter in Waiting For Godot. “On the other hand what’s the good of losing heart now, that’s what I say. We should have thought of it a million years ago, in the nineties.”

If that rumination gets a special laugh in the Godot that comes to the Serca Festival from Seattle’s One World Theatre, it’s because Samuel Beckett’s existentialist tramps did think of it in the nineties — the 1990s that is. That’s when Shawn Belyea’s production came to Edmonton and instantly became a hit draw.

In a palpable demonstration that time has stopped, as one of them observes, Vladimir and Estragon have returned to the same country road, the same tree, the same evening. And with the same actors: Jeff Page and K. Brian Neel as the raffish pair who wait, and wait, and wait some more for the mysterious Mr. Godot to show up and give meaning to … waiting. Which is the crux of the tragicomic masterpiece that has haunted, intrigued, bewildered, provoked the world ever since its premiere, in a tiny Left Bank Paris theatre in 1953.

“Nothing to be done,” says Estragon (Neel) at the outset, an opening line at least as memorable as the stage direction: “

A country road. A tree. Evening.” But they can’t leave: “let’s wait till we know exactly how we stand.” And certainty eludes them; for that they’ll have to wait for Godot, and he’s a no-show day after day. So they pass the time arguing and bickering, telling jokes, singing old music hall ditties, telling jokes, doing vaudeville routines with hats, and pratfalls

Page, in a welcome return to the Edmonton stage, and the agile Neel are an amusing double act, trapped in a human comedy with no beginning and no ending. They’re not an intellectual construct; they’re baffled people, stuck at an mystifying impasse. Neel is a rubber-faced round-eyed clown in a tattered red fez. He’s the more distractable, self-centred of the two, playing against Page’s more solemn, exasperated and philosophical Vladimir, striding purposefully around the stage, with its single “tree” (one of those outdoor umbrella clothes racks)  before he remembers he has nowhere to go.

No production of Waiting For Godot is ever definitive. But the way Vladimir, fiddling with his bowler near the outset, declares he’s “appalled, AP-PALLED,” you know that this will be a performance to reckon with. The chemistry of the pair is easy, believable, and fun to watch: funny and inventive. If dreaming of happiness is as close as you’ll get and the human condition is, as Vladimir says, “too much for one man,” two is at least a consolation.

Amusingly, Tim Moore creates the sadistic master Pozzo with a carnivorous tooth-clenching smile, and the plummy imperious, self-dramatizing tones of an old-style Shakespearean. And Mark Fullerton’s tall, drooling, skeletal slave, the ill-named Lucky, on his rope leash, is strikingly apocalyptic.

“Habit is a great deadener.” And you could be waiting a long time for Godot. Don’t miss this chance to catch the play.

It’s running tonight through Sunday at the Alberta Avenue Community Centre, 9210 118 Ave. Tickets and scheduling info: sercafest.com


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