Certain things in life one either acquires a taste for or never learns to like. Black coffee, cigars, raw oysters and straight whisky on the rocks are four good examples. Samuel Beckett’s highly acclaimed play "Waiting for Godot" is another.
Some hail it as one of the greatest works of the 20th century. Others revile it as an experience akin to watching paint dry and barely more tolerable than a TSA pat-down at the airport.
Neither assessment should be accepted without firsthand experience, and director Markus Wessendorf’s current staging of "Godot" at Kennedy Theatre gives Hawaii residents the opportunity to judge the play for themselves. Some first-timers are certain to become fans.
The premise predates "Seinfeld" by several decades. Two men, Vladimir and Estragon, talk about everything and nothing in rambling disjointed style while they wait for someone named Godot. They’re not sure who he is and don’t know what he looks like, but are convinced their lives will improve when he arrives. They meet two other men. Neither is Godot. The other two eventually go on their way. Finally a boy arrives to tell Vladimir and Estragon that Godot won’t be coming today, but will come tomorrow.
Act 2 is more of the same.
‘Waiting For Godot’
» Where: Kennedy Theatre, UH-Manoa
Beckett purists will find a strong island ambience in Wessendorf’s production. The tree that figures prominently in the story is a palm tree. The setting is a run-down beach park. David M. Gerke’s set includes a Hawaii-style stone wall, scattered rubbish and discarded Abercrombie and Aiona campaign signs. Costume designer Michaela Kocis dresses Vladimir (Dan D. Randerson) and Estragon (Tommy Barron) in garb that suggests they had rooted through a Salvation Army donation bin.
Beckett never revealed the characters’ back-stories or described their physical appearance. Wessendorf’s presentation suggests they are two of the mentally challenged derelicts who squat in public parks here.
The most remarkable thing is that all four of the major players – Randerson, Barron, Ryan Wuestewald and Troy Apostol – also have major roles in the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s current production of "Hamlet," which is also running through this weekend at Kennedy Theatre. The quartet is as impressive in "Godot" as in "Hamlet."
Barron, who has the least stage time in "Hamlet," does a marvelous job as stolid, sleep-deprived Estragon, a man whose limited short-term memory suggests mental illness, brain damage or early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Randerson is equally strong as Vladimir, the sharper-witted of the two; he got most of the laughs on opening weekend with his portrayal of a man with urinary problems.
Randerson makes several frantic dashes to a satellite urinal set near the left-side exit. The action moves to that side of the audience in several other scenes as well.
Wuestewald is phenomenal as Pozzo, the master/sadist who wanders with the subservient mute Lucky into the park while Vladimir and Estragon are waiting for Godot. Make what you will of the character – is Pozzo an insecure, self-absorbed bully who overcompensates for his feelings of inferiority? Is his entire relationship with Lucky an elaborate form of role-playing? – but Wuestewald’s meticulously detailed performance invigorates the action.
Apostol’s portrayal of Lucky adds an uncomfortable and ominous tone to the story. Rather than making Lucky a cypher, animated only by Pozzo’s orders, Apostol is never still; his eyes roll and his lips twitch even when he is observing the others from a distance. The impression is of a sullen, slavering dog awaiting the opportunity to rip out its tormentor’s throat.
Apostol’s finest moments come when Lucky dances on command and shows that he can "think." The audience applauded enthusiastically at the end of his performance.