Waiting for Godot

September 7, 2013

This may have been the most perfect piece of theatre I’ve ever seen.

The acting was stunning. Tom Rooney and Stephen Ouimette were fabulously balanced; Brian Dennehy was, well, Brian Dennehy; Randy Hughson was heartbreaking and terrifying as Lucky (what a name!) and even the boy(s?) stood their test well.

In the program the director talks about silence and space, and these things are all, in Waiting. How to pass the time while waiting leads to the question of how to exist in time and space when you don’t have any effect…on anything…even to the extent of not knowing where one was the day before.

And what to say about Beckett? It’s as though, in its spareness, the play contains multitudes. The other line to strike me from the program was that “Godot is a comedy whose actions take place in the field of tragedy.” I think this is what we were getting at at intermission as we discussed cruelty/evil in the play. Pozzo’s treatment of Lucky is a scandal, as Vladimir exclaims, but he may not be innately cruel. The world they live in has treated all of them very cruelly, though (if Vladimir and Estragon were to “drop” Godot, he’d punish them, Didi says).

It’s levels upon levels upon levels. There’s the social/class commentary of Pozzo/Lucky and the situation of V. and E., tied up in postwar concerns. There’s meta-theatrical commentary (“But nothing happens!”). These lead to the existential problem — the centre cannot hold; how to find meaning in a world in stasis, with no reaction to (and barely any memory of) your presence.

It’s so spare that every line is endowed with an incredible amount of meaning. And the people who brought it to life were masters, all.

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This was only going to be a review of the Stratford Festival’s amazing production, now on DVD, of Twelfth Night.  I didn’t see it live; chose two other fantastic productions instead. But now, even though they were great, I’m kicking myself for not seeing Des McAnuff’s comedy in person.

The word to describe it is joyful. Not without the touch of melancholy that always gives a Shakespearean production greater depth, especially thanks to Tom Rooney’s Malvolio. But sheer joy in the language, the comedy, the romance, the music!

It might be because I’m such a huge fan, and have been since his Shaw Festival days, but a lot of this joy radiates from Ben Carlson’s cranky but accommodating Feste.  The interplay between Feste, Maria, and Brian Dennehy’s Sir Toby Belch and Stephen Ouimette’s Sir Andrew Aguecheek is fantastic.

Twelfth Night is full of music, the food of love!  And McAnuff added even more, including a song based on Marlowe’s “Passionate Shepherd” and Raleigh’s “Nymph’s Reply”.  Even with all the beautiful music (a showstopping “Come Away, Death”, performed by Carlson alone), the most fun was Carlson, Dennehy and Ouimette turning “Hold Thy Peace” into a 50s rock song. Just thinking about the song and the scene puts a smile on my face.

Which brings me to what this post turned into: thoughts on the beauty of theatre and the important times my family’s had, thanks to Stratford.

We’d been before now and again, but my mother made a point of taking us in 2002, to see Christopher Plummer as King Lear. It was a breathtaking, heart-rending, production, and we made a beautiful day of it, picnicking along the river and spending time as a family. When we got home, we got the message that my mother’s sister had passed away; and for me, admittedly a niece rather than a sister, the grief we saw enacted on the stage that day, in retrospect, reflected our own.

Since then we’ve gone at least yearly, and usually a few times a year. I’ve shared trips with my whole family, my whole family and some friends, just my husband, just my brother, and last year, I got to take a friend to her very first play (she’s a concert goer, not a playgoer, but I think she’s convinced!). There have been a couple years where we’ve dealt with the rain, but usually it’s a gorgeous summer or fall day, offering time to spend with loved ones, and time to ponder the magic the Festival shares with all of us.

My mother-in-law, whom we lost in 2010, was a lover of musical theatre. My husband and I got to take our moms to a few productions, and so whenever I see a fantastic play like Twelfth Night, I wish I could share it with her. I’ve been listening to the soundtrack, and it gives me opportunity to think of her, and have that joyful feeling. In a couple weeks I’m having that first-time theatre-goer friend over, and we’ll watch the play and share in the fun.

I am so thankful for all these moments.