Seattle Shakespeare’s “Waiting for Godot”

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Jim Hamerlinck, Darragh Kennan, Chris Ensweiler, and Todd Jefferson Moore. Photo by John Ulman

Seattle Shakespeare’s production of Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” is a gift to Seattle, a gift of memorable theatre. Here superb acting coupled with slick production values is a good match for Beckett’s genius with words and his marvelous sense of humor. One can’t leave the theatre without asking how he managed to make such lamentable characters so funny.

In this absurdist comedy, Vladimir and Estragon, two vagabonds wait near a tree for someone named Godot. Theirs is a hollow existence; daily life empties rather than fills them. They talk to avoid the nothingness, to convince themselves that they are alive, somber conversations filled with wit and humor.

As they wait, in comes the merchant Pozzo, snapping his whip at his luckless servant Lucky who is leashed around his neck with a heavy rope and carrying Pozzo’s goods. Lucky is commanded to dance and then to think. Out comes a torrent of words that devolve into mindless gibberish. With a crack of Pozzo’s whip and a shouted command, Lucky picks up his load and off the two go.

The next day Pozzo returns; most memories of the previous encounter are lost. After he and Lucky leave, Vladimir and Estragon continue to wait for Godot instead of killing themselves. As we learned early on, “Nothing to be done!” even as life goes round and round repeating itself in its own tragic way.

Since it was first performed in 1953, “…Godot” has been considered one of the most important theatrical works of the Twentieth Century. Within it are explorations of love, honor, religion, horror, philosophy, and so much more, all presented in comical garb. In 1969 Beckett received the Nobel Prize for Literature, and this play was a significant factor in that award.

Here Director George Mount and his cast and crew present it with finesse. The large bare stage has within it a smaller stage, one that reminded me of an appropriate backdrop for commedia dell’arte (scenic design by Craig Wollam). This is the location for nearly all the action. The costumes by Doris Black have the perfect seedy/clownish quality.

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Darragh Kennan and Todd Jefferson Moore. Photo by John Ulman

Darragh Kennan and Todd Jefferson Moore bring the two vagabonds to life with bold actions and subtle gestures. Watch Kennan’s eyes. They say almost as much as do the words. Watch Moore’s body language. This, too, provides a wealth of meaning. The swaggering Chris Ensweiler captures the arrogance and cruelty of Pozzo with his movements as well as his words. And Jim Hamerlinck the tragic slave bends low as he carries the cares of the world in Pozzo’s bags.

There is so much here! When this play is performed with such √©lan, it’s a theatre event to be cherished.

Through Sept. 21 presented by Seattle Shakespeare Company at ACT Theatre, 700 Union Street, Seattle, (206-292-7676 or seattleshakespeare.org).

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