Tuesday, November 5, 2013
This past weekend I took my wife to New York City for an early birthday gift: we had orchestra seats on the aisle for a a performance of Beckett's Waiting for Godot starring Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Patrick Stewart. Yup. Vladimir and Estragon were played by Gandalf and Picard. Or, if you prefer, by Magneto and Professor X.
It was a revelation. The play has a terrible reputation for being bleak and depressing, but Beckett himself described it as a comedy. And that's how these two brilliant actors played it. It was like a two hour Monty Python sketch. Moving, heartbreaking, and hysterically, hilariously funny. The two supporting actors, Billy Crudup as Lucky and Shuler Hensley as Pozzo, might have been forgiven for not quite measuring up to the two leads...but no forgiveness was necessary; they were both brilliant. Hensley's Pozzo in particular was a revelation, giving it as he did a deep Southern American accent, and Billy Crudup as Lucky had to perform not only a difficult physical role but probably the single most demanding soliloquy in the theatre. Lucky only has one line in the entire show, but it goes on at length when he is ordered to "Think!" More than the two leads, it's Lucky's speech for me that shows Beckett's mastery of the language.
Godot is being performed in alternating repertory with Harold Pinter's No Man's Land, and I only wish we had been able to stay in the city long enough to catch both shows. The show we saw was technically a preview, since the official opening isn't until later this month, but it had the smooth, expertly executed feel of a play that's been running for a while. Which is no surprise since both Stewart and McKellen performed the play together in London in 2007.
Tickets are going fast, but there are always a few cheap (and excellent!) seats to be had on the day of the performance if you can be at the box office of the Cort Theatre when it opens at 10:00 AM. Or you can hope to get lucky, as we did, when we picked up two superb seats within seconds of a cancellation for an otherwise sold-out performance. If you have the means, do whatever it takes, but see this show. You will never look at Godot, Beckett, or either of these two actors in quite the same way, ever again.
[Didi and Gogo, waiting.]