Sam Coppola as Estragon and Joseph Ragno as Vladimir in Alan Hruskas 50th anniversary staging of Waiting for Godot.
Worth the wait (more or less)
By Jerry Tallmer
I dont know whether Samuel Beckett ever saw the great old American vaudeville team of Smith & Dale or, more likely, some British music hall equivalent. In any event, whats being billed as the 50th anniversary production of Waiting for Godot at the Theatre at St. Clements goes back, more or less happily for all of us, to those marvelous old vaudeville roots.
One says more or less because of the more, the two characters that are right on the beamthe Estragon (or Gogo) of Joseph Ragno, the Vladimir (or Didi) of Sam Coppolawhile the other two are somewhat less than that.
In their time-tested, Loews-Keith-Orpheum, Jewish-Irish-Italian, up-from-the-stoops-and-sidewalks New Yorkesethink Cagney, Cantor, or Bobby ClarkCoppola, and Ragno in particular, are just what the Dr. Kronkheit ordered.
Coppola as Didi, the tall, thoughtful, and (God save us) intellectual oneDidi who packs all human existence into Astride of a grave and a difficult birth
Down in the hole, lingeringly, the gravedigger puts on the forcepsemanates visual and other overtones of the late Rodney Dangerfield, among others.
Ragno as Gogo, the short, stumpy, hard-beset, elemental, baggy-pants-dropping oneGogo who suggests suicide by hanging because it might spur an erection, but who also asks: Whatll we do now? Now that we are happy?is blessed with the intonations and furies of Moe of the Three Stooges, Professor Irwin Corey, Jimmy Durante, and a thousand other street-seasoned comics, bless him.
This fortunate keystone-combination casting by director Alan Hruska does much to restore the balance of the Godot that was, in its Broadway premier in 1956, overweighed by Bert Lahrs much-loved patented clowning as Gogo.
Trouble is, not as much can be said for the gentleman who, in Becketts words, should enter with a bellow (in terrifying voice) of I am Pozzo
PPPOZZO! as he cracks his whip and snaps the rope that leads to the throat of Lucky the slavecollapsing, baggage-carrying Lucky.
Unfortunately, Ed Satrakian as Pozzo, at least for me, lacks the pomp and bluster of the two-bit tyrant who will reenter blind and helpless in Act II. This Pozzo isnt Dick Cheney or George C. Scott, hes Dick Cavett pretending to be those guys.
One of the great roles in theater, in the right hands, is that of Lucky, i.e., mankind agonistes. Martin Shakar is passable when Lucky just has to shudder and wobble and weep in his tracks, or even when Pozzo commands him to dance for the edification of Gogo and Didi, but the moment the slave has to finally open his mouth to deliver the long, astonishing, pregnant-with-implications soliloquy that starts: Given the existence as uttered forth in the public works of Puncher and Wattman
as soon as the show at St. Clements hits that point, everything goes galley west.
This Lucky doesnt rattle off those words, he glides into them like snakeskin. Its too fancy, too elegant, too ornate. It isnt being, its acting. And then, at the peroration, the windup, Mr. Shakars Lucky works himself into a frenzy. HeJesus, save us (since Jesus lies at the center of Becketts masterpiece) he emotes.
Yet despite any of the above, it is good to have Godot back with us once again, and there is much in Alan Hruskas staging to admire and enjoy. His precisioned timing, for instance, of the old burlesque passing-the-hat routines that Bill Irwin and David Shiner also celebrated in their Fool Moon. Or the tiny little miserable carrot on which Gogo is allowed to nibble in Act I. Or, speaking of hats, the way Gogos battered relic dangles back and forth from his fingertips in demonstration of suicide by hanging.
But I dont know why Pozzos topper is not a stage-worthy stovepipe, but the same kind of Derby as Gogos and Didis. I dont know why in Act II the fallen Pozzo and Lucky seem to lie around on the ground forever, only to be joined down there by Gogo and Didi as forever stretches into unintended eternity. (A failure of directorial ingenuity?) I dont know why in Act II the barren trees one green leafits new leafhas turned into one brown leaf. Signifying death, I guess. But we knew that.
Stop quibbling, critic! Mr. Godot, as the messenger boy (Tanner Rich) calls him, is maybe never going to come, not at least while the gravedigger with the forceps is still waiting around for all of us, but Waiting for Godot is back again in an acceptable, watchable productionmore or less. And the more, that keystone combination of Ragno and Coppola, is better, far better, than nothing.