Waiting for Godot

What makes Samuel Beckett's masterpiece more than just a great example of absurdist theater is the compassion Beckett exhibits toward his two hapless protagonists. Waiting for Godot weds standard theatrical forms such as vaudeville and burlesque to a worldview that would be unbearably bleak if not for the empathy with which Beckett (and we) look upon Estragon and Vladimir. Subterranean Shakespeare and director Yoni Barkan understand both the comedy and the sorrow in this play, but they don't always succeed in modulating the two. As Estragon, Greg Lucey is a master stylist, clearly accomplished in mime, clowning, and vaudeville. After diving to the ground for the used chicken bone that Pozzo (Karen Goldstein) tosses there, he sits on a nearby stone, legs neatly crossed, and daintily nibbles it, as though he were in a Wilde play. When offering a stool to Pozzo, Lucey chivalrously dusts the seat with his hat. He uses Chaplin-esque postures and nails his line readings, varying his tone from puzzlement to despair to outrage, and he almost always gets a laugh. Stanley Spenger, who plays Vladimir (he's also the artistic director for Sub Shakes), is a very different type of actor than Lucey — he exudes a calmer, more natural energy, and he isn't always comfortable when a more stylized technique is required. Sometimes he's too placid, but he nevertheless approaches the role intelligently, and his first-act-ending plea to Godot's boy (Jeff Meanza) — “You did see us, didn't you?” — is heartbreaking. Goldstein's inflections are somewhat repetitive in the first act, but when she reappears later, blinded and wretched, she brings a moving depth to the role. And as Lucky, George Frangides uses his wonderful, Droopy Dog face and his hunched posture, bent nearly double, to convey the picture of abject misery. Frangides' Lucky is a monument to suffering — it's easy to see why Vladimir and Estragon are so fascinated by him. (Frangides' one monologue could be crisper, though.) The set consists of a Dali-esque painting (by Irina Mikhalevich) hung askew and a wonderful tree constructed out of copper-painted PVC pipe fittings (by Barkan). The pipes reach clear to the ceiling, acknowledging La Val's cellar setting in a smart, humorous way. Barkan lets the pace drag here and there, but this is a worthy, often moving production. Subterranean Shakespeare admirably serves Beckett's tale of the capacity for hope and love in a world that appears to allow neither.

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