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Photo: Courtesy of Shakespeare Theatre Company
Photo: Courtesy of Shakespeare Theatre Company

Lucky Steals Show in Waiting For Godot

Hope and despair, slapstick comedy and profound philosophical musings, each are abound in quick succession in Samuel Beckett’s iconic and mysterious play Waiting for Godot.

Irish acting company Druid is performing their rendition of the hard-to-interpret play at the Shakespeare Theatre Company through May 20. The metaphorical mystery in Beckett’s Waiting for Godot leaves an endless amount of room for interpretation, but Druid’s rendition is certain to keep audiences laughing as much as it will make them think.

The play tells the story of two tramps, seemingly stranded on a barren countryside road. Vladimir (nicknamed Didi, played by Marty Rea), a usually cheerful intellectual and Estragon (nicknamed Gogo, played by Aaron Monaghan), the wearier of the two. The pair bicker, play games and tell stories endlessly, while they wait for the arrival of someone named Godot. During the eager, sometimes hopeless, wait, the tone alternates between heartbreaking and hilarious.

“I think Beckett wants us to go through all the different emotions in this play. There are some very sad, emotional moments and kind of a despair at times but then he does the opposite, there’s great hope and great love and great laughs at times at ourselves and our existence,” actor Garrett Lombard says.

The two tramps, draped in shabby clothes and plagued with ill-fitting boots and itchy hats, encounter only three other characters: Pozzo (Rory Nolan), his slave named Lucky (Lombard) and an unnamed boy (Malcolm Fuller).

The tramps wonder about and at times judge Pozzo’s treatment of Lucky, who is constantly burdened with a stool, a basket, a suitcase full of sand and a rope around his neck.

“[Lucky is] a very subservient character, very low-status kind of guy, and he basically wants to please his master by doing his job of carrying his bags and giving him his coat and his stool and his whip and whatnot as best as he can,” Lombard says.

Perhaps the character most difficult to interpret in Waiting for Godot, Lucky stumbles around the stage, answering to Pozzo’s every beck and call, without saying a word – until his famous, breathtaking monologue that earned a raucous round of applause from the awestruck audience.

“He comes out with this incredible, mad, long, stream of consciousness speech, about the human existence and what we have ascertained about trying to explain this and trying to explain the universe and ends up, during the speech, almost losing his mind completely,” Lombard says.

The monologue nearly drives Pozzo, Didi and Gogo out of their minds as well.

This landmark moment makes preparing for the role of Lucky a colossally strenuous process. In addition to his monologue, the character spends most his time either hunched over or flopping down in exhaustion. According to Lombard, prepping for the character required a lot of stretching and staying in the best possible shape.

Apart from the physical aspects, the getting in the mind of the character was an isolating process, Lombard says. Lucky is constantly serving Pozzo and does deliver an enormous speech, but he never actually banters with other characters.

“It’s a bit of a lonely process. You don’t get to have the kind of fun that Didi and Gogo have in the rehearsal room. But it’s a really interesting one to work on as an actor, even if it was a little bit lonely at times,” Lombard says.

Critics have debated the symbolism of Lucky’s name, as well as his role. Some say Lucky is aptly named because unlike any other characters, he knows what his purpose is – to serve Pozzo. The name could also be sarcastic, which is in line with the play’s dark humor.

Catch the show until May 20 at the Lansburgh Threatre. Tickets start at $44 and can be purchased here. More information can be found at www.shakespearetheatre.org.

STC’s Lansburgh Theatre: 450 7th St. NW, DC; 202-547-1122; www.shakespearetheatre.org

Photo: www.olneytheatre.org
Photo: www.olneytheatre.org

The Crucible Is a Trip Worth Taking

“These are strange times,” notes a disheveled Reverend Hale in the semi-fictional town of Salem, Massachusetts. This is Arthur Miller’s The Crucible and it has had its share of the spotlight since its 1953 run on Broadway. The “strange times” of Salem have had a way of speaking to audiences, whether fifty years ago, twenty years ago or today.

Miller himself notes the following:

“The play seems to present the same primeval structure of human sacrifice to the furies of fanaticism and paranoia that goes on repeating itself forever as though imbedded in the brain of social man.”

This is to say that the “strange times” of Salem are the strange times of every age, including today. And it’s the reason why I could sit through a hundred more productions of Olney Theatre’s The Crucible. Don’t miss it. Under the clear direction of DC’s own Eleanor Holdridge, the three-hour play held court from start to finish and as I watched Rev. Parris enter, mystified by his unconscious daughter, I found myself a member of a befuddled jury.

That’s the hook of this play– it challenges the audience’s frame of reference. As every character questions reality, the audience is pulled in and also begins to question what can be known. That’s the devil’s greatest play– per Miller’s Salem– he conflates dream with reality.

It’s a play with a McCarthy-era tinge, but more broadly speaks to what Miller called the lack of a moral reference.  This sentiment emerged after the war and in light of the rise of the Soviet Union, and claimed that there was nothing on which to base belief. “Nobody but a fanatic, it seemed, could really say all that they believed,” Miller says.

The play is packed with well-meaning individuals. Holdridge and her cast do justice to the good intentions of their characters and do not fall into stereotypes. At the helm is the perfectly-cast Chris Genebach as John Proctor. Genebach walks a moral high ground and provides an anchor to the ensuing frenzy and uncertainty.

Beside him, and equally as anchored, is Elizabeth Proctor (Rachel Zampelli). Zampelli brings an authenticity that makes her magnetic to watch. Holdridge’s staging of the goodbye scene between the Proctors is particularly striking. With only eyes for each other, Zampelli and Genebach perform a beautiful dance in which their whole marriage seems to come to its fulfillment.

The cast is fleshed out with a powerful performance from Paul Morella as Danforth. Waiting backstage for all of Act I, Morella emerges post-intermission like a cannon ball and holds court (quite literally) till the end. Scott Parkinson as Reverend Hale is excellent. The character’s arc from being the expert on demonic possession to lying crumpled up in a prison cell is heartbreaking in Parkinson’s able hands. A fabulous Brigid Cleary (as Rebecca Nurse) and Craig MacDonald (as Giles Corey) bring a comic depth which balances out an other wise serious storyline.

The Crucible is a trip worth taking. You will find yourself questioning whether the sky is indeed blue and whether the grass truly is green. A note of caution: uncertainty is Satan’s most powerful tool. He’s in the game of dashing certainty and crippling reason. But take the trip. These times are strange. See what is before your eyes— it’s there that you will find the truth. The Crucible runs until May 20 at Olney Theatre. For tickets and pricing vist: www.olneytheatre.org

Olney Theatre Center: 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Rd. Olney, MD; 301-924-3400