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Review: Waiting for Godot

October 1st at the Barron Theatre (at the Byre) saw the opening night of Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett — the first of Mermaids’ productions this semester, spearheaded by a pair of director-producers, Haedden Mund and Mohit Agarwal. Perhaps the most important play of the twentieth-century, any production of Beckett’s ‘Tragicomedy in Two Acts’ has the task not only of capturing the audience’s attention, but also of surpassing their preconceptions. The result was an interesting show, boasting some stellar performances while mottled with some curious creative decisions.

What is the plot of Waiting for Godot? As Vivian Mercer quipped in 1956, it’s “a play in which nothing happens, twice”. Or, more precisely, two middle-aged drifters named Vladimir and Estragon brood, yearn, moan, pontificate and play amidst a desolate wasteland while they wait in vain for the arrival of the obscure titular character. In the meantime, they meet Pozzo, a deranged aristocrat, Lucky, his mostly mute slave, and a boy who serves as Godot’s envoy. There are no epic twists or stark epiphanies. Instead the play works on you like insomnia, quasi-formless, warping time and testing your sanity.

The keystone of this production was the strength of the leading performances from actors Matt McCaffrey and Marcus Judd. McCaffrey played a wonderfully lugubrious Vladimir, Eeyorish in just the right measure to give his exasperation a mordant crackle. Across him, Judd was captivating as Estragon, charming us with his mix of profound stupidity and stupid profundity. Both paid keen attention to their physicality, Judd shuffling up the thrust stage where McCaffrey hobbled, and they exuded, if chemistry isn’t quite the word, a terrific mutual Stockholm syndrome. Sacha Murray Threipland’s Pozzo also enthralled, an unhinged micro-tyrant decked out in highland dress (making his plummy English accent all the creepier), turned convincingly pathetic by the second act. Danny Spiezo as Lucky and Jack Dams as the Boy deserve nods too for their unsettling performances.

Where the production wobbled was in some of the directors’ strange stylistic choices. Most glaring was the decision to cast actor Daniel Teape, wearing a T-shirt and chinos, to play the tree. While cute, the gimmick was a timid move, bracketing the show’s dramatic complexity in a pair of sarcastic air quotes so as to deflect from serious critique. Other choices, like Lucky smoking a cigarette in the second half or Van Halen being played between acts, also distracted from the piece’s prevailing themes. At times the directors seemed to conflate the Absurd, of the sort Martin Esslin identifies in Beckett’s work in his seminal 1961 text The Theatre of the Absurd, and the random, of the sort you might find in a Youtube skit. The show’s energy was undeniable but sometimes lacked focus.

Nevertheless, as a whole the play was engaging, and made for a stimulating night of theatre. The show’s creative force foretells the standard of production that is to come from Mermaids over the course of the semester.

Photos by Mohit Agarwal

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