Denver theater review: An absurdist masterpiece for our confusing times
April 30, 2017
If you go
What: The classic existentialist tragicomedy by Samuel Beckett
Where: The Arvada Center, 6901 Wadsworth, Arvada
When: Through May 20
For those of us who believe we're living in absurd times, there may be no better cure than an evening with Samuel Beckett's absurdist masterpiece, "Waiting for Godot." Now lovingly restored in a new production at the Arvada Center, "Godot" helps reassure us that futility, confusion and helplessness are not endemic to one time, but a state of affairs experienced by most of us hapless humans muddling about the planet.
The Mysterious Godot
Since its debut in 1953, anyone with a philosophical label to affix has tried to claim "Godot" as its own and, fact is, it works for almost any of them. The script is short on details about the characters, the place, the time or any of the other usual markers that help fix position. Instead, Beckett gives us two men — Estragon and Vladimir — waiting by a tree for the mysterious Godot who — no spoiler alert needed after 64 years — never arrives.
During the course of two days of waiting, the pair fill the time by talking. Estragon, the more pathetic of the two, seems to recall being beaten recently, although the details are fuzzy. Vladimir enjoys reveling in the pointless nature of their vigil, their worries, life and the world in general. They sing, dance, embrace, fret over their hats and boots and endure a pair of odd visitors and several appearances by a messenger from Godot himself.
None of it matters.
Beckett didn't write "Waiting for Godot" for its plot but, rather, as a means of testing each and every audience member with a rushing torrent of yardstick questions only we can answer. If you reject the notion that life is pointless and we're all simply waiting around for something — death? — to break up the monotony, then you'll find it amusing to reject all they say. If you're on the other end of the spectrum, then you'll be sympathetically aligned with the characters and keeping an ear out for the next bit that rings true. Chances are you'll fall somewhere between the two extremes, with some notions hitting home, and others not so much.
That's the beauty of this play: It challenges all of us to confront our own questions on our own terms while simultaneously beholding the pained exertions of characters who must work it all out in real time before us.
For this production, Arvada Center assembled an all-star lineup, starting with Denver Center regular Geoffrey Kent at the helm as director. In Kent's imagining, Vladimir and Estragon are a pair of beaten-down ne'er-do-wells who nevertheless possess boundless energy to physically project their every thought.
Kent has Sam Gregory as Vladimir covering every inch of the fantastic, 3-D set with a John Cleese-like series of contortions, gyrations, twerks, jerks and spasmodic ramblings. As his downtrodden counterpart, Estragon (Timothy McCracken) is right with him, matching him pratfall for pratfall in a Keaton-esque tour de force that only someone with Kent's experience as a fight choreographer could pull off.
It may take you a good part of the first act to get fully on board with what "Waiting for Godot" is up to, but once Beckett's master plan settles in, it's a joy to watch Gregory and McCracken bring this classic piece of theater to life. It's hard to imagine two Denver actors better suited to pull this off, and with Kent's extraordinary orchestration breathing so much new life into "Godot," it makes for a piece of don't-miss theater.
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