At first, the MLK Jr. Memorial Library’s Room A-5 dwarfs the audience for Imperial Theatre Live’s production of Waiting for Godot. They come in and sit in clumps of twos or threes, scattered and isolated. It actually seems to echo the isolation of the play’s leads quite nicely. That is, until the audience spends some time with their programs and finds a little green insert. Group-by-group, they all exclaim the same thing, “They’re only doing the first half?!”
At the performance I attended, I heard that all over the theater. Any sort of isolation vanished. The audience was just a bunch of people in a big room getting half of what they just paid for. One audience member exclaimed for all to hear, “But then why do the play?”
Director/producer/board operator Bruce Funk tried to talk to the front row about the situation. He only found out last Thursday, two days before they opened, that their first act ran 80 minutes, and they couldn’t possibly fit both acts into the mere 120 minutes Capital Fringe allotted them.
Funk added, with the shallow and low stage that Capital Fringe gave them, it would have been too hard for the audience to see the actors during a moment in the second act when they are all on the ground, so it really works out.
But, Funk concluded, the audience could keep an eye on the company’s website for more information about a full production!
[Editor’s update: For their final performances, we have been told the company will perform both acts.]
“The show must go on” is a noble sentiment, but might it be better to cancel a show entirely than to cancel only the second half? When you charge full price and don’t warn the audience, I’d say so.
Waiting for Godot
The rest of the show is a mixed bag. The first third features Konstantine James and Raoul Anderson as Estragon and Vladimir, two vagabonds miserably waiting for their eponymous benefactor, Godot. Anderson has a bouncy, varied performance when he has the spotlight, but struggles to stay present while awaiting his cues. James’s Estragon becomes much richer once Pozzo (Aaron Selestok) and Lucky (Peter Cooper) enter and give him more to react to.
Before that entrance, James and Anderson seem to rush through their lines, seemingly unaware that cutting the second half gives them ample time to develop their characters. Selestok and Cooper take that lesson to heart, and let their performances breathe.
Selestok shines as Pozzo, the self-obsessed slave master of Lucky. He has Estragon and Vladimir wrapped around his finger, except for key moments of manic confusion.
However, this production truly revolves around Cooper’s Lucky. Cooper spends much of the production loudly grunting and blowing raspberries, when he isn’t sarcastically shrugging or shaking his head at Pozzo’s lines. When beckoned by Pozzo, Cooper stamps his feet against the metal stage louder than any line in the show. To avoid tripping, he whips the long rope around his neck so violently that it almost hits his castmates or catches on the legs of the stage’s risers before landing back underfoot anyway. At all times, he makes grabs for the audience’s attention and attempts to give a voice to a historically silent character.
With all the attention drawn to Lucky, it is a shame that his costume is so far behind the others. Estragon and Valdimir’s battered jackets and bowlers fit the image of the two famous tramps well. Likewise, Pozzo’s clothing makes clear his station above Estragon and Vladimir, down to his red bowtie. Lucky doesn’t look like anything. He wears gold-rimmed sunglasses, a judge’s robe cut to expose a black t-shirt that covers his midriff, long exercise pants, and some nice, modern hiking boots.
Beckett’s script calls for Lucky to remove his hat to reveal white hair underneath, while Pozzo lifts his own to show himself bald. But Lucky’s long, white wig is clearly visible at all times above his also clearly visible black hairnet. Pozzo’s hair has also grown out since their first dress rehearsal, buzzed but thick. Beckett’s humor can be an enigma at the best of times, but is completely lost here.
Seeing only the first half of Wait for Godot, it is hard to say I’ve seen it at all, and I can’t say that the half I did see reflects the show as it is typically performed. I can say that six of the audience members I spoke to after the show were seeing this as their first Capital Fringe experience. It sounded like it would be their last.
Waiting for Godot. Directed by Bruce Funk. Written by Samuel Beckett. Produced by Imperial Theatre Live. Featuring Konstantine James, Raoul Anderson, Peter Cooper, Aaron Selestok, Zephyr Ingle, and Logan Dill. Reviewed by Marshall Bradshaw.