Friday, November 27, 2009

Godot? God No.

Some years ago, my grandfather and step-grandmother (whom I never address as step-grandmother - preferring to call her Denise which is not her given name) came to visit Long Island and brought us to a painfully expensive restaurant courtesy of Taylor Publishing. Grandpa was a big shot in the said publishing company, and was fond of showing how much he cared for us by buying us expensive meals about twice every decade. Denise (not her real name) upon hearing my analysis of the restaurant's faux pas in overcooking the flounder I had eaten stated how she imagined me one day becoming a critic. What type of critic she never said. It is true that I carry strong opinions about nearly everything. I find it difficult to harbor wishy-washy flip-floppery feelings about things. So being the case, I found no small amount of pleasure when I took a "Modern Drama in New York" class as part of the bullshit required curriculum of Stony Brook University. What this essentially entailed was going to see shows and writing critiques of them. Because I found this process so entertaining and was extremely pleased with the results, I here share them - one by one. I here present the one I most recently re-read - that of Nathan Lane, John Goodman, Bill Irwin, and John Glover in Waiting for Godot. This was my final submission for the class which ultimately resulted in yet another A.

The Roundabout Theater Company’s latest production of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, staged in the perverse yet hallowed halls of Manhattan’s erstwhile disco orgy palace, Studio 54, seems more like an overpriced sleep aid than a play. Or, for up to $116, treat yourself to one of the best-orchestrated naps that money can buy. In what can only be described as the Roundabout’s plan to cash in on celebrity names, they have staged their Godot with a look and feel so fresh, you’d swear it was 1953.
It is quite impossible to imagine any self-respecting director sitting back in his chair and believing he has created his magnum opus in this particular production. Instead, it plays out like something of a Godot fanboy’s wet dream with this platitudinous dime-store formula: Well Established Comic Genius + The Set You’ve Seen Countless Times + A Dreary Bridge-and-Tunnel Audience = Success!
Steve Rubell with his usual nightly ration of cocaine would have had difficulty staying awake for the duration of this performance. Even Nathan Lane’s signature grating, Jersey-accented shouting and overly expressive gesticulations weren’t enough to sufficiently energize Beckett’s existentialist lullaby to keep much of the audience around for Act II. Witnesses to this tragedy of a comedy may find it easy to sympathize with John Goodman’s increasingly corpulent rotundity rolling around the stage blindly asking for help, but as the bobbing heads and drooping eyes from the theater’s mezzanine indicate, they won’t necessarily be entertained by it. The audience seemed so unsure of the humor in this clunker that they basically laughed when instructed to by Mr. Lane; that is, when he screeched or grotesquely contorted his face.
Bill Irwin’s Vladimir makes a gallant effort to outshow Lane’s porcine Estragon, but he and his thin frame vanish into the drab background between the two scenery-chewing behemoths, the twin moons of Lane and Goodman. Perhaps Goodman’s most sincere moment of acting was when he “feigned” heart palpitations, an event that left this reviewer wondering if he shouldn’t call the paramedics… just in case.
Godot as read may not be the most exciting play, but just as throwing a couple of hams into a pot does not a Sunday dinner make, tossing two fat funny men on a New York stage and hoping for the best is less a recipe for success and more for disaster. But perhaps disaster is too strong a word - the audience in this production was so mind-numbingly disengaged that had Lane and Goodman spontaneously burst into flame at the end of the play it is doubtful anyone would have been paying enough attention to think to shout “Fire!”

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