Which is why “Godot” still natters. It was the first serious work of art to ask the question, ‘How can we amuse ourselves in a universe without God.’ And even though we now know the answer (the iPhone 6), some of are still haunted by the question.
Beckett’s genius took the question and made it the center of a comedy. He created some of the most nihilistic statements ever spoken (“We always find something, eh Didi, to give us the impression we exist? “ “Yes, yes, we're magicians.”) and turned them into punchlines. The play walks a tightrope of humor and angst, leaning this way one moment, that way the next, but never losing its balance until its final moments, when the void (“There’s no lack of void”) overwhelms Didi’s and Gogo’s manic attempts to keep it at bay, and leaves them inert in a corner of the stage.
ATC’s production, which opened last night in their studio space, focuses primarily on the humor. The actors are vivid, colorful, funny. There’s a touch of American stock characters in their performance, without lapsing into cliché. Gogo (Sterling McHan) sounds a little like a country hick; Pozzo (Tim Hunter) has an overly refined Southern accent; Lucky (Theodore M. Daugherty) bears an disconcerting resemblance to the 70’s era Leon Russell. And each character 'works' in the context of the play. But in the radical disjunctions of character, particularly between Didi and Gogo, we lose some of that balance. I found myself wishing there had been a little less characterization, a little stronger relationship.
Certainly the clownish moments, and there’s loads of them, come across. We laugh, that's certain. I think what I'm missing is the fragility of their hope. They try desperately to avoid saying what they already know, that Godot's not coming. Which makes their humor something akin to courage, even nobility. Melancholy guy that I am, I missed that aspect of the play.
And then comes the ending, and they recapture a great deal of that. Craig Walter as Didi is particularly excellent, shaking his fist at a God he no longer believes will come. The final scene with the boy (Devin Harmon) is moving, even shattering, as Didi demands a simple acknowledgement that he exists.
One last note. A rather well known, and completely misunderstood, Beckett quote goes like this: “If by Godot I had meant God I would have said God.” Well. In America we, for some reason, pronounce it ga-Doh. In every other country (including Beckett’s Ireland and in the original French) it’s pronounced God-o. Beckett’s little joke is that he did, in fact, say God. But like so many other things, Americans don’t get it. Nothing to be done.
That said, Steven Dietz has recently taken a stand that is not only beyond criticism, but that has a chance to change things. Read about it here.
I'm assuming there's extensive rewriting going on (the article doesn't touch on copyright issues), but the intent is not to do parodies or even to be humorous. It's to challenge young actors, kids as young as 8 and 9, with material that requires dealing with subtext and complex relationships.
I'm not sure how I feel about some of this, but I do know from experience that kids want challenging material. And if nothing else, it's a new approach.
Erin Scarberry, John Cruncleton, and a whole bunch of talented kids have created Tulsa's latest and greatest Haunted House experience. Don't miss it! All week, preteens 7 pm, teens start at 8 pm.
The band is perfect. Tight and professional, but not afraid to let loose and sprawl all over the stage (musically speaking) when the songs call for it. But they never get in the way of the dynamic, charismatic, trans-cendent Hedwig, and her husband Yitzhak. Played by Thomas Williams and Kelsi Downey respectively, the front (wo)man and backup singer for the Angry Inch are the center of the music and the story.
Photos by Robert Young
Williams is a constant delight. Blessed with an amazingly flexible and expressive voice, he fully embodies not just the diva should-have-been superstar, but also the tortured self-seeker; the abusive wife (she constantly mistreats Yitzhak); her younger self, the 'girly-boy' Hansel; not to mention the other four or five characters in the story that are given voice by Williams. The songs too run a gamut of emotions, and he gives each one full commitment, the acting as affecting as the music is thrilling. (Pronoun confusion is inevitable when talking about Hedwig, and even gets a punch line during the show)
Downey plays the love-struck, much put upon Yitzhak with equal commitment, but it's in the songs that she really shines. The harmonies sound great, her punkish stage persona complements Hedwig's glam-rock look, and she kicks ass on her solo moments.
My friend David Lawrence, who I never miss a chance to bait, designed the set and lights. Unfortunately, he did great job. The slat motif was inspired and set up the amazing look for the closing, and the set in general was an intelligent and colorful integration of space and show. And the lights rocked.
But finally, what takes the performance past being just a great rock concert with an interesting back story is that the whole thing is done with heart. And that comes from the performers, but clearly from the director as well, Tony Shanks, who's ushered the Tulsa show into life. There's a love for the material, a respect for the characters, and, importantly, respect for the audience. The characters are real to the actors, and they're shared with the audience. And that will get me every time.
P.S. This is the 2nd show in a row that I've 'gushed' on. Let me be clear: I have no desire to be a critic. When I go see a show, I'm a hungry guy looking for food. Theatre is my food of choice, but I'm also knowledgeable and discerning. I know the difference between what's good and bad, though personal taste always comes into play of course. My point is, I want the damn show to be entertaining, I want the story to make me think, I want the actors to make me feel something (though I don't like being manipulated), and I want the music to kick ass. I'm not objective, I'm rooting for them. When they come through, well, that's why I go to the theatre in the first place. And I'm excited to share that with people.
But I also have to much respect for what's good about the theatre to lie about it when it's not there, when it doesn't work. So yeah, trust me, but don't expect a dispassionate analysis. Because if I'm passionate about anything, it's theatre.
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