Crossroad blues

Waiting for Godot

“Singin’ in the rain …” Edward Claudio as Vladimir and Dan Harlan as Estragon in the soft-shoe portion of Samuel Beckett’s <i>Waiting for Godot</i>.

“Singin’ in the rain …” Edward Claudio as Vladimir and Dan Harlan as Estragon in the soft-shoe portion of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot.

Rated 4.0

Waiting for Godot is a journey to nowhere and everywhere. This quintessential Samuel Beckett play is an eclectic display of existential theater, one that breaks conventional rules by throwing out plot, character and story arcs and pat endings.

It’s a journey that’s funny and sad, heavy and light, thought-provoking and silly, sentimental and slapstick, and, depending on the viewer, either incredibly frustrating or thoroughly satisfying.

A quick warning to the uninitiated: It’s best to be prepared for Beckett, even if it simply means understanding the comedy-drama has an unconventional approach, layered meanings, quirky conversations, intellectual wanderings and many levels on which it can be enjoyed.

The Actors Theatre is celebrating the 50th anniversary of Waiting for Godot, and co-directors Nancy Martis and Michael Garbarini keep the talented cast in tight rein. They let the lush language and philosophical ramblings take the audience along on the two main characters’ trip to nowhere while providing just the right touch of humor.

There is no storyline to tell, just the setup, which is the genius of Beckett. Two scraggly characters, Estragon and Vladimir, converse at a country crossroad. They are waiting for a man named Godot, though neither has ever met Godot, knows why they are waiting, knows how long they’ve been waiting or knows when he will appear. They have become paralyzed with the wait, unable to move forward, make decisions or even respond to outsiders. It’s a parable of mankind—the search for meaning, happiness and a higher calling—that’s sprinkled with much laughter along the way.

The cast is solid; it’s a study in acting talents. Though the team wasn’t quite in its groove during the opening night’s first act and sometimes slipped into acting-exercise mode, everything magically clicked into place by the second half. It’s a joy to watch experts at work and know you are in capable hands. Edward Claudio, co-founder of the Actor’s Workshop, as Vladimir is the perfect foil to Dan Harlan, who gives the most remarkable performance as Estragon—strangely conjuring up Bert Lahr as the cowardly lion in The Wizard of Oz.

The other standout performance is Martin Lain as Lucky the slave, whose silent presence demands attention and whose ultimate lengthy, rhythmic diatribe demands applause. Anthony D’Juan as Master Pozzo captures the duality of his character, and a youthful Davey Wreden makes the most of his short times onstage.

The set is simple, stark and harsh: A backdrop of generic watercolor foothills surrounds a stage that’s relatively barren, except for a stripped tree and a couple of nondescript boulders. The costumes are poor country-folk plain, and the few props are unadorned. There are no distractions and no references to the outside world, just an emphasis on the language and the simple physicality of waiting.