Amidst the longing and despair that seeps through the core of “Waiting for Godot” at the Beck Center for the Arts, actor Michael Mauldin finds joy in the chaos.
Playing now through November 5, 2017 in the Studio Theatre, Samuel Beckett’s dynamic absurdist piece lays in wait for audiences to come and think.
“I hate it when theatres make the announcement for audiences that say ‘sit back, relax and enjoy the show!’ I don’t want the audience relaxed!” says Mauldin, who plays the character of Vladimir, or Didi. “I don’t think that’s what theatre is about… at least not for this one.”
Directed by Eric Schmeidl, the sum of the provoking play is a bit like the Song That Never Ends (yes it goes on and on my friend). Didi and Estragon, known as Gogo (William Hoffman), meet up in the evening to wait for the arrival of the mysterious Godot. While passing the time, they encounter an (initially) boisterous Pozzo (Brian Pedaci) and his wretched companion Lucky (Allan Byrne). Minutes tick by, conversations are had, chaos bursts through from nowhere, Pozzo and Lucky take their leave, and the moon continues to rise. Hope of Godot’s arrival grows, and then it fades with the appearance of a timid Boy (Jake Spencer). Only Godot has the way out of this endlessly bleak place, but he will come tomorrow. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
A simple concept, yet filled with decades of philosophical, religious, mortal, moral and all other existing kinds of debate.
“I think it’s a play that challenges you. It’s a play that forces you to be engaged, and it challenges whether you allow yourself to be or not,” says Mauldin, who’s taught absurdist concepts for 29 years.
Mauldin says that one of the difficult things about absurdism and about “Godot” that it refutes “causality” – that A leads to B leads to C. Why does a character do this thing or that thing? What is the motivation? There IS no reason here, necessarily. And for actors? Forget about “subtext.” Let the “why” of anything just go.
“It is challenging. It is hard. It is one of the hardest pieces to perform that I have ever done,” says Mauldin, noting that the lack of causality and the repetitiveness of the text make it tricky to learn. For him, mnemonic techniques, rhythm in the words and hard-core rote memorization have earned him an ovation-worthy performance.
And it’s not just Mauldin who shines on this dreary stage. Hoffman is a bit of the Eeyore of the piece, as his Gogo is unable to remember from one day to the next. He uncertainly floats around like that little black raincloud, aching in his shoes, lamenting about whether or not he and Didi should stay together after all this time. His timing and his patter are a perfect match to Mauldin’s Didi as they riff through why they are there at all. Because they are waiting for Godot! The pair is charming together, and their moments are well-crafted, entertaining, and powerful.
The next pair is just as well-teamed, as Pedaci’s Pozzo is a loud and imposing character next to Byrne’s hard-staring, focused and stomping Lucky. The duo causes audiences to consider the audacity of how humans treat one another. Pozzo is a bully, but there is also pity for him. Lucky is treated like a dog, but there is a fear of him.
One of the most surprising and stunning moments in the first act comes when Lucky breaks his silence. Like a damn loosed upon the world, the words flood out and Byrne becomes a master of seamless ramble. He loses his ever-loving mind into a jaw-dropping spew of beautiful nonsense… “in spite of the tennis.” It is EPIC.
And the Boy. Spencer appears twice in the play, both times at the corner entrance in a pool of light. His delivery is simple and engaging, with his interaction with Mauldin being very truthful. These moments where Mauldin asks, “You did see us, didn’t you?” and the Boy replying, “Yes, sir” are so honest and short, but they truly hold all the weight of the play.
Although the setting is desolate, it does not make it uninteresting. Scenic designer Aaron Benson has crafted a wall of rock that one can find all sorts of abstract shapes within. And the lone tree on the set is stark, yet the leaves that adorn it in Act II are reminiscent of a description of Dr. Who’s home planet of Gallifrey, described as having trees with “bright silver” leaves. Two levels of rock make a workable playing space, and the lighting by designer Trad A Burns captures the world into a proper evening. We can thank him for the handsome rising moon in each act. Costume Designer Carolyn Dickey has the knack for beating up clothes and making proper men look well-traveled, as the boots and bowlers are all in place with the dirty coats and shirts. A nod goes to Angie Hayes for her Sound Design.
All of this comes together for an experience that may leave some unsettled.
Mauldin remarks that “we have made [audiences] passive because we tend to answer all the questions, and tie it up in a neat little bow. This one… this one doesn’t even come in a box!”
He also notes that “two people who’ve been married for 50 years can leave the theatre and have two different experiences and interpretations of what they just saw.” From this perspective, it’s a mark of great content and execution!
Do not wait to see “Waiting for Godot” at the Beck Center, as it only plays now through November 5, 2017. Tickets are available by calling 216-521-2540, or by visiting www.beckcenter.org.