Great stage duos don't emerge all that often. Thankfully, Samuel Beckett took a break circa 1953 from what he called "the horrible fiction" he was writing and created one of theater's most puzzling, pathetic, comic and tenderly moving duos: Waiting for Godot's Vladimir and Estragon.
Purposeless except for their shared and always almost ***image2***fulfilled purpose of waiting; searingly conscious of time passing with nothing to do, or of time standing still with nothing to be done; tenderly in absolute need of each other, yet equally on the verge of parting; alternately locked in vaudeville, gamesmanship, recrimination and aborted attempts at mutual care. Theaterwork's conscientious production goes easy on the gags, gimmicks and potential distractions and focuses on the relationship of Vladimir and Estragon as if it were a real one to be taken at face value.
In fact, the consistently passionate, almost reverent treatment given to Beckett's flawless script by director/set designer David Olson and cast makes for the odd experience of time flying by even though, as Estragon says, "Nobody comes, nobody goes, nothing happens-It's awful!" Beckett crafted a piece that operates triumphantly both as "art" and entertainment, but he also wrote parts that verge on the impossible-to-perform convincingly. Godot thrives on a perverse, rambling, recursive and inscrutable play of language, of deeply hidden and tangled, ironic yet essential motives; of contrarian, stubborn and exaggerated, risky leaps. As Bert Lahr (yes, Oz's Cowardly Lion, who played the role of Estragon in a Broadway production of Godot) remarked in regard to Beckett, "He's no phony."
Dan Friedman and Mario Cabrera, as Estragon and Vladimir respectively, deliver sustained, engaging and accessible performances. Olson has reduced significantly both the hapless, repeated stage business involving boots and bowlers and the obsession of both characters with urination. ***image1***The paring down of the vaudeville and the bodily function humor both contribute to the focus of this production, which is the energy in Vladimir and Estragon's relationship itself. The couple's combined attachment and resistance remain center stage, so to speak.
Perhaps with this in mind, Jack Sherman as Pozzo plays it light and unthreatening. One misses the terrifying dimensions of the deranged Pozzo as he is often portrayed: Utterly oblivious, magisterially inflated and evilly, dementedly egomaniacal. Sherman's version is more clownish, a befuddled and harmless bourgeois circus ringmaster. Adam Harvey, as Pozzo's slave/fool, Lucky, has less of an extreme to play off, yet Harvey generates incandescently manic, simultaneously comic and repulsive energy in his performance of Lucky's famous "thinking" monologue. One of the problems with Act 2's reappearance of Pozzo, as the archetypal "Blind King," is that Sherman's Act 1 Pozzo is not bigger than Jehovah/Oedipus/Lear/Nixon combined: Without such infinite and numinous pride, the return of Pozzo lacks the full dimension of a tragicomic catastrophe.
That Friedman and Cabrera are repeatedly a welcome sight and that the two of them capably handle the mysterious, comic and painfully uncomfortable aspects of their roles is a tribute to their craft and Olson's direction. Although both the dark comedy and the archly bitter discomfort of Beckett's vision is gussied up, Olson and crew shape an accessible, entertaining and respectful version of Beckett's highly challenging play.