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Waiting for “Waiting for Godot”

13 Feb

“I’ve never heard of that book”, said the puzzled book store employee when we asked whether the store had any copies of Waiting for Godot. Things weren’t looking good for Godot.

derby

Several years ago we saw the film Vanya on 42nd Street in which a group of well-known actors rehearsed Chekov’s Uncle Vanya at a run-down theater in New York without ever intending to stage a full-blown production of the play. That gave us an idea. What if we rehearsed Waiting for Godot with our friends? Since we see our friends infrequently, the idea languished on the back burner for the better part of a year. Then in December, we got together with our friends Louie, Sam, and Fred for beer and pizza. At the end of the evening we pitched our idea, which earned us some quizzical looks from our buds. We thought that was the end of it, until Louie contacted the gang via e-mail and suggested that we all give the idea a try. Sam and Fred only vaguely remembered the conversation, but said they were up for it. We met at Louie’s on a chilly night in January.

We had only one copy of the text, which we gave to Sam.  We, Louie, and Fred hooked up laptops and read from a copy of the play we found online.  We were the only one in the quartet who had seen the play (albeit on DVD.) The casting was done on the spur of the moment. Sam said that he’d be Vladimir, one of the two tramps who wait for Godot, so the part was his. Louie volunteered for the part of Estragon, the other tramp.  That left Pozzo and Lucky (and the little boy who comes in at the end of both acts.)  We knew that Fred would make the perfect Pozzo, so we chose Lucky. As for the little boy, we’d just wing it.

We tore into the material.  About 15 minutes into the reading, Sam looked pointedly at us and said “Harry, what’s this play about?” (Sam is a lawyer by trade, and used to dealing in things that can be known.) We told him quite honestly that we didn’t know. We once heard of a movie goer who, having seen Ken Russell’s Lisztomania gushed , “I didn’t understand it, but I loved every minute of it!” 1 That’s how we feel about Waiting for Godot – we enjoy the play, but we find ourselves unable (and unwilling) to pin it down.

The reading continued until just after 9pm, when the looming work day on the morrow forced an early stopping point. We hadn’t even reached the end of Act I. Everyone agreed that the play was intriguing and we made vague plans to meet again to continue the reading.  That gave us time to score three more dog-eared copies of the text. Several weeks passed without a firm plan to meet again.  Sam took the initiative, e-mailing “So when are we going to meet again?  I want to know what happens to Vladimir.” Beckett had apparently awakened some dormant creative impulses in our band of grumpy old men.  We’re shooting for February 19th.

Waiting for Godot has been described as “a play in which nothing happens, twice” (and this was written by Vivian Mercier, a fan of the play.)  We hope Mercier is wrong – we’re hoping that this nothing happens more than twice.

  1. Not having seen Lisztomania, we can’t say whether this enthusiastic view was warranted. However, the director is Ken Russell, so we kind of doubt it.
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Celebrity and the Scarlet Letter

26 Feb

We’re hardly the first to remark that American culture (no, that’s not an oxymoron, though it may sound like one) places a high value on celebrity, and on the whole, we’re pretty forgiving of celebrities.  An actor may have a bout with drugs or alcohol, but after getting clean, he or she is welcomed back into the fold (as was Robert Downey, Jr, for example.) 

There is one thing, however, that even (or perhaps especially) celebrities must not do. Any celebrity who breaks this taboo will be cast out and made to wear a scarlet ‘A’.  We simply will not allow celebrities to age.  If a celebrity stubbornly insists on aging, she (the feminine pronoun seems most apt here; unless you’re Mickey Rourke, women are judged more harshly than men) had better do so ‘gracefully.’  Don’t believe us? Do a web search (we’re old school; we won’t let ourselves use ‘google’ as a verb) on “celebrities age gracefully.”  You’ll get hits for celebrities who have supposedly aged gracefully, but you’ll also get just as many for those who supposedly haven’t. There’s an unspoken assumption that those who have aged gracefully are somehow morally virtuous, while those who haven’t have somehow brought it on themselves. (Sure, Keith Richard may fall into the latter category, but we think that someone who’s lived the life he has looks pretty darn good today.)

Those who attempt to prolong their youthful appearance through plastic surgery had better choose their surgeons carefully.  The price of failure is ridicule. Those who choose well pass unnoticed (or perhaps get into the ‘aging gracefully’ camp) while those whose surgeries fail are given the scarlet letter.  Poor Meg Ryan is lumped in the latter category, but we wonder why.  We’ve seen her ‘post-surgery’ photos, and to us she looks fine, surgery or no surgery.  It’s become so ridiculous that Brigitte Bardot has ended up on someone’s ‘not aging gracefully’ list.  She’s 79 years old, for crying out loud, cut the woman some slack. We saw that the late Farrah Fawcett wound up on someone’s list.  We’re not making excuses for her appalling lack of good taste in not looking like she was still twenty years old, but she did have a few other things on her mind at the time (like coping with cancer.)  Again, we’re not excusing the behavior, just explaining it.

There is more we could say on this topic, but if we don’t leave for our liposuction appointment now, it’s going to take months before we can reschedule.

Yoda

Get an eye lift if you want to keep working, Yoda,

RSC stages Rick the Deuce

10 Dec
Richard II

Richard II – he’s more exciting than you think

We’ve always had a certain apprehension when it comes to seeing Shakespearean plays. Shakespearean language, though poetic, can be hard for us normal folks to figure out. What if we don’t understand what’s going on? What if we don’t like it? What if it’s boring? Such were the fears going through our heads as we went to  see a high-definition video of Richard II staged by the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Keep calm, we told ourselves.  After all, David Tennant, plays the title role.  He was the 10th Doctor, so that had to count for something, right?  Still, it was was one of the Bard’s historical plays, and history is boooooring.  If worse came to worst, we could always discreetly nod off.  As long as we didn’t snore, who’d be the wiser?

What a surprise for us, then.  We always thought that life in medieval England was about as slow as molasses, but in the hands of the Bard, there’s always something hittin’ the fan.   And while we might have missed a few subtleties here and there, we had no trouble understanding what was going on, which was a big relief to us plebeians.  We need more screenplays like this one. The play is set in 1399, when the idea that a king’s power was bestowed by God was prevalent and this concept informs the action of the play.

The acting is of course, top notch.  Tennant plays Richard as an effete, opportunistic, dotty character who nevertheless captures our sympathies in the second act.  He’s not the only one shines – Jane Lapotaire as the Duchess of Gloucester kicks acting booty, as do Michael Pennington as John of Gaunt, and Nigel Lindsay as Henry Bolingbroke (we could go on – there’s not a bad performance in the whole production.)

As to the staging, the lighting, and the look of the thing, let’s just say that if you see it, you’re gonna love it.

So, if this production comes to your town,  go see it and don’t be as freaked out as we were before we saw it.

Two plays and a Movie

28 Oct

1. Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett

2. Hughie by Eugene O’Neill

3. The Sons of Katie Elder directed by Henry Hathaway

These three works all have one thing in common.  Have you figured out what they all share? Hint:  It has nothing to do with a chipmunk.

The answer is below.

Chipmunk

Pay no attention to the chipmunk…

 

Answer: All three works have characters mentioned in the title that never appear.