Godot is un­ex­pect­edly con­tem­po­rary


Wait­ing for Godot

(out of 4) Writ­ten by Sa­muel Beck­ett. Di­rected by Daniel Brooks. Un­til Oct. 7 at the Young Cen­tre for the Per­form­ing Arts, 50 Tank House Lane. Soulpep­per.ca or 416-866-8666. To be­gin the sec­ond act of Wait­ing for Godot, if you ac­cept that there are only two acts and not an in­fi­nite num­ber in this clas­sic ex­is­ten­tial com­edy by Sa­muel Beck­ett, Vladimir stands alone on the stage and sings to him­self a song about a dog that was beaten for steal­ing a piece of bread. In the new pro­duc­tion on now at Soulpep­per The­atre, Diego Mata­moros’s Vladimir sings in a Spring­steen-like growl, reach­ing a rous­ing crescendo with the phrase, “Then all the dogs came run­ning, and dug the dog a tomb.”

Trade his shabby tweed jacket, over­coat and beige trousers for blue jeans and a white un­der­shirt, and change the scenery to a New Jersey industrial park in­stead of a bar­ren limbo space (dev­as­tat­ingly de­signed by Lorenzo Savoini), and Vladimir sud­denly be­comes an icon of the work­ing class Amer­i­can man, and his stead­fast, faith­ful wait for the un­know­able Godot hits an un­ex­pect­edly con­tem­po­rary note.

Di­rec­tor Daniel Brooks re­turns to Beck­ett af­ter two ac­claimed pro­duc­tions of Endgame at Soulpep­per (one in 1999 and one in 2012), the lat­ter with Mata­moros as the ser­vant­like fig­ure Clov. The two are joined by an­other long­time Soulpep­per favourite, Oliver Dennis, as Vladimir’s part­ner in wait­ing Es­tragon. The three of them unite, buoyed by the en­sem­ble na­ture of the Soulpep­per com­pany that em­ploys the same ros­ter of names year af­ter year, cre­at­ing a per­sonal and pro­fes­sional ease that’s no­tice­able on the stage, with an un­com­pli­cated, nat­u­ral ap­proach to Beck­ett’s text.

Brooks is not afraid of the dark, cyn­i­cal na­ture of the play, but he’s also not forc­ing Vladimir and Es­tra- gon’s plight to rep­re­sent any­thing larger than them­selves. Dennis and Mata­moros, ridicu­lously well-cast for their parts, are hu­man­ized through their re­la­tion­ship to each other. There is a sense of deep mu­tual knowl­edge and com­fort, end­less an­noy­ance, some code­pen­dence, and true love and care — symp­toms of any long-term friend­ship (and who knows, this could be the long­est friend­ship one can imag­ine). They fight in­tensely, they tease each other, but when Vladimir asks his friend “Will you not play?” they re­vert to chil­dren’s rough­hous­ing and role play­ing.

For the first time, I found my­self won­der­ing about their re­la­tion­ship be­yond the im­me­di­ate cir­cum­stances of their predica­ment, wait­ing for an au­thor­i­ta­tive fig­ure that never ar­rives — where did they grow up, how did they meet, do they have chil­dren and where else on earth should they be at this mo­ment? Like Spring­steen was in rock ’n’ roll, they are the ev­ery­man placed on the pedestal of ab- sur­dist the­atre to rep­re­sent the suf­fer­ing of the many.

Pay­ing due to Beck­ett’s abil­ity to cap­ture so much thought, pain, hope and hu­man­ity, Brooks’s pro­duc­tion em­pha­sizes how mal­leable Wait­ing for Godot is. Po­lit­i­cal, philo­soph­i­cal and re­li­gious in­ter­pre­ta­tions are still present, de­pend­ing on what­ever might be on your mind be­fore tak­ing your seat.

For this par­tic­u­lar critic, the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the ver­bose, pow­er­ful Pozzo (Rick Roberts), who walks his silent slave Lucky (Alex McCoo­eye) on a rope, was a clear rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the im­bal­ance of wealth and power in the po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic spheres. Pozzo dines on chicken while Lucky gets the bones (and Es­tragon snacks on a car­rot, per­haps the metaphor­i­cal car­rot that’s con­stantly dan­gling in front of the North Amer­i­can work­ing class?)

Of course, Pozzo wouldn’t be able to travel any­where at all if it weren’t for the hard work and per­spi­ra­tion of his slave, but he rules over him through force, con­trolled and lim­ited re­wards, and gaslight­ing. How­ever, upon their re­turn in the sec­ond act, Pozzo has be­come weak, as has Lucky, and in both of their des­per­ate states, come to a ba­sic halt. In per­haps an un­in­ten­tional ref­er­ence by cos­tume de­signer Michelle Tracey, Pozzo wears a deep-red scarf around his neck, rem­i­nis­cent of an­other fool­ish po­lit­i­cal and business leader who fan­cies crim­son neck­wear.

As the first the­atre pro­duc­tion of the Soulpep­per 2017/2018 sea­son, and kick­ing off the fall the­atre sea­son in gen­eral in Toronto, Wait­ing for Godot was at first glance an un­usu­ally straight­for­ward, safe pick — a well-known but chal­leng­ing ti­tle, with a re­spected di­rec­tor and two favourite per­form­ers. But af­ter see­ing Brooks, Mata­moros, Dennis, Reid and McCoo­eye (not to men­tion young Richie Lawrence in two mem­o­rable ap­pear­ances as Boy) take on the play, we’re re­minded of how Beck­ett can be the voice we’re wait­ing to hear with­out even re­al­iz­ing it.


Diego Mata­moros, Rick Roberts and Oliver Dennis in Soulpep­per The­atre’s Wait­ing for Godot.

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