by Ruth Ross
Before a skeletal tree alongside a deserted road in some post-apocalyptic world—either past or future—two dirty, bedraggled tramps wait. No, not for a representative from a local shelter. Not for a bus. They’re waiting for the long-absent Godot. They’re not sure when he will come or what he will look like. They’re not sure what will happen once he arrives. They’re not sure how he will change their lives once he comes. But they are sure that “there’s nothing to be done.” (left: Derek Wilson as Estragon and Anthony Marble as Vladimir)
They are Vladimir (Didi) and his companion Estragon (Gogo), protagonists of Samuel Beckett’s play, Waiting for Godot. Written more than 70 years ago, Waiting for Godot is one of the definitive stage works of the twentieth century, a work of theatrical absurdity that helped the world change the way it regarded the art of the theater.
The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey’s latest production of Waiting for Godot opened September 13th in Madison where it will continue through October 1st, starring Anthony Marble as Vladimir and Derek Wilson as Estragon, under the superior direction STNJ’s Artistic Director Bonnie J. Monte.
As the two men wait, quite a lot happens. The stifling boredom of the wait is interrupted as they dance, exercise, sing, play jokes, abuse each other and recount their 50-year association. The desolate outpost is visited by others, just as disoriented and disturbed, passing through. And just as the tramps are about to go on their way, a boy arrives to assure them that Godot will most certainly come tomorrow, thus prolonging the wait another day.
To make matters worse, time itself seems to have to come to a halt. Indeed, Estragon has no sense of time, and Vladimir’s is just a touch better. Even though they have spent a half century together, they continually question whether they’d be better off alone. The terrible thought that human experience is fragmented and purposeless is communicated by non-sequiturs and fruitless and repetitive actions that underscore the meaninglessness of their existence.
This production features several faces familiar to STNJ audiences. As Vladimir, the brilliant Anthony Marble is alternately awkward and graceful as he paces the stage aimlessly, engaging in a hilarious hat trick and exuding desperation and terror as he realizes that soon “all will vanish, and we’ll be alone once more.”
As Estragon, Derek Wilson (above, right, with Marble) is equally as superb. When we first meet him, struggling to remove his boot, he displays a terrific sense of comic physicality, further reinforced by a hilarious piece of shtick wherein he puts on a pair of new boots and attempts to walk in them! He’s even funny when he’s sleeping. His expressive face exudes happiness, sadness, desolation and terror in rapid succession, keeping the audience off-guard as to his true emotions. The slight mustache links him to Charlie Chaplin’s iconic comic character, The Little Tramp.
Allen is heartbreaking as Pozzo’s brilliant, faithful, hapless servant, ever held in check by the tug of a rope around his neck, able to think only when commanded to and even then, unleashes a torrent of words disjointed and meaningless. Rounding out the cast is Jaiya Chetram as The Boy who brings several messages (if you can call it that) from Godot.
In her final season with STNJ, Bonnie J. Monte directs the production with style and steadiness. The actors utter nonsense in such a manner as to make it seem logical. The action moves along smoothly at a good clip but never feels rushed. Steven Rosen’s atmospheric lighting conveys the passage of time from rosy twilight to dark night; Monte’s set design and costumes aptly evoke a surreal world in which “all are born mad” and “some remain so.”
Does Godot ever come? Does the waiting ever end? Ultimately, it doesn’t matter, for in a world of uncertainty, it’s not Godot that’s important to the play’s protagonists. Only the wait has meaning. And STNJ has mounted a production that will make you take stock of your own life, decide just what it is you’re waiting for and whether that wait is worthwhile.
Waiting for Godot runs through October 1, 2023, at the F.M. Kirby Shakespeare Theatre, 36 Madison Avenue, Madison, on the campus of Drew University. Call (973) 408.5200 or visit www.ShakespeareNJ.org for tickets and information.