Tuesday, April 23, 2013

WAITING FOR GODOT • St. Louis Actors' Studio

Played out on a minimal set with a couple of stones, a leafless tree, and a backdrop of a blue cloudy sky, Waiting for Godot, as the title suggests, is about these two guys, Vladimir (Gary Wayne Barker) and Estragon (Terry Meddows), who are waiting for someone called Godot.  The men admit they don't remember how they know Godot, or if they even really know him at all.  Just about the only thing they do know is that when Godot shows up, everything will be better.  Hmm…  But what to do in the meantime…?

Samuel Beckett's tragicomedy (here pronounced GOD-oh, the way Beckett intended) that debuted in a small Paris theatre in 1953 has long been hailed as a classic example of the "Theatre of the Absurd".  It's practically devoid of dramatic conventions.  There's no solid plot.  Instead it's populated with the mundane details of what happens amidst the waiting.  The exchanges between Vladimir and Estragon (or Didi and Gogo -- their familiar names for each other), are where the wolfish, deeper themes of the play lay disguised (or in plain sight) as lamb's clothing.  This play presents the everydayness of life.  Whether they're bickering, eating carrots, trying to remember what day it is, or trading off hats and quick banter like Abbott and Costello or Laurel and Hardy, the dialogue between Didi and Gogo is where the overall landscape of the bleak, comic, repetitive and uncertain nature of the human condition is cleverly cloaked.

Terry Meddows (Estragon)
and Gary Wayne Barker (Vladimir).
Photo credit: Patrick Huber
Its revolutionary nature when it came onto the scene, plus the fact that Beckett always avoided elaborating much on the characters, made this play open to a wide range of interpretations and philosophical analysis.  I mean, it's kind of crazy how many online articles there are out there supposing what the characters might represent.  Thing is, what's in the text can be interpreted however the viewer chooses.  And there are several choices.

Act one opens with Estragon struggling to take one of his boots off.  Vladimir considers a Bible story, and at one point contemplates the consequences of hanging themselves from the tree.  There's nothing else to do besides wait, right?  They decide that they may not succeed with the hanging, considering all of the possible complications, so they go on figuring out what else they can do to fill time, while they wait for the arrival of Godot.

At one point near the beginning, they wonder whether they've gotten the right day, only to realize they can't be sure of what day it is at all.  Taking note of the tree, Vladimir wonders what kind it might be.  He suggests it might be a willow that must be dead, and Estragon answers, "No more weeping".  They go on like this -- talking about ordinary things, arguing back and forth and nursing hurt feelings like a newlywed couple.

Greg Johnston (Pozzo), Gary Wayne Barker (Vladimir),
Terry Meddows (Estragon) and Aaron Orion Baker (Lucky).
Photo credit: Patrick Huber
The everydayness is broken when two fellow travelers, Lucky (Aaron Orion Baker), a manservant/slave, shuffles forward with a noose around his neck, and his master Pozzo (Greg Johnston), an arrogant windbag, calling the shots on the other end of a long rope, come onto the scene.  They've been traveling around the lands, that Pozzo claims to be his, so they stop for awhile for some company.  As superior as Pozzo seems, while mercilessly abusing Lucky, he eventually reveals his own weaknesses.  Lucky, as miserable as his existence seems, at least has a purpose -- a purpose that the rest of the characters seem to lack.  Near the end of Act one, a Boy (Hayden Benbenek) appears to inform Vladimir that Godot can't make it that day.  He promises he'll be by the next day.  After questioning the boy about whether or not they've actually had this conversation the previous day, Didi and Gogo resume waiting.  They resolve to leave once night has fallen, but can't bring themselves to move.

Greg Johnston (Pozzo),
and Gary Wayne Barker (Vladimir).
Photo credit: Patrick Huber
The second act is a Twilight Zone-styled déjà vu of the first act, with many familiar exchanges.  Even Pozzo and Lucky show up again, but now, Pozzo is blind and Lucky is mute.  The Boy also makes another appearance to inform Vladimir that once again, Godot can't make it.  But tomorrow for sure…  The end.  Or more likely, not the end.  Whaa???

Now, I admit, I read way too much stuff about this play before I saw it, and was kinda scared.  This kind of theatre intimidates me.  Didn't think I'd get it.  But I was surprised at the accessibility of it, and the amount of comedy within the text.  For me, someone who's never seen this play before, that accessibility is largely due to its director, Bobby Miller, and a top notch cast.  Barker injects Vladimir with a playful, affable humor one moment, and exasperation the next.  Meddows as Estragon, the more somber of the two, has a face full of wide ranging expressions, from glee to downright despair.  Then there's Lucky -- pale, despondent and broken-down, but Baker gives us a clearly drawn representation of someone who may be luckier than the rest of the characters.  At least he and Pozzo have decidedly defined roles. Johnston confidently shows us a Pozzo whose cocksure affectations belie his shared helplessness.

Patrick Huber's scenic and lighting design were perfectively just enough, and Michele Friedman Siler's costumes ring true to the "tramp like" look of the men.

Terry Meddows (Estragon), Aaron Orion Baker (Lucky),
and Gary Wayne Barker (Vladimir).
Photo credit: Patrick Huber
The opening lines of the play sum it up rather nicely, when Estragon struggles to take off his boot, he says, "Nothing to be done".  He's answered by Vladimir who says, "I'm beginning to come round to that opinion. All my life I've tried to put it from me, saying Vladimir, be reasonable, you haven't yet tried everything. And I resumed the struggle."  So yeah.  It's deep, but well worth it if you're willing to take the plunge.  I promise -- it's not scary.  Check it out from the comfort of your theatre seat, and watch these intriguing fellows bide their time.


Written by Samuel Beckett
Directed by Bobby Miller
The Gaslight Theater, 358 N. Boyle Ave.
through May 5 | tickets: $30
Performances Thursday to Saturday at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm

Terry Meddows (Estragon) and Gary Wayne Barker (Vladimir).
Photo credit: Patrick Huber
Terry Meddows* (Estragon), Gary Wayne Barker* (Vladimir), Greg Johnston (Pozzo), Aaron Orion Baker* (Lucky) and Hayden Benbenek (A Boy).
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Scenic and lighting design by Patrick Huber; costume design by Michele Friedman Siler; stage manager, Amy Paige.


  1. Andrea, your review on this "intimidating" show is fantastic. You explained it clearly & concisely, and definitely peeked the interest of at least one infrequent theatre-goer (me!)

  2. Hooray!! Thanks, Casey! You know this show scared the shit out of me. :)