A double dose of superlative acting in a double bill of Harold Pinter’s NO MAN’S LAND and Samuel Beckett’s WAITING FOR GODOT – two enigmatic, bleak and bizarre classics that leave some theatergoers stymied as to their meaning or racing up the aisle to leave during intermission or willing to let the seemingly nothingness of it all wash over us with the incredible performances of a lifetime of Sir Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Billy Crudup and Shuler Hensley brought to amazing humorous life by director Sean Mathias.
This time out, the plays are not the thing. The acting is. Four extraordinary actors portraying eight characters in two not so different plays, if aloneness, aging and despair count for anything.
I have never been of fan of WAITING FOR GODOT, no matter how you pronounce the name of the mysterious character who is a perennial no-show. But I decided to give it another go and I will be eternally glad that I did. This production is a revelation.
The real life friendship of Mr. McKellen and Mr. Stewart adds immensely to the believability of the fifty year friendship of Estragon (Gogo) and Vladimir (Didi), those two lost souls on the highway of life (thank Godot they’ve got each other) forever friends, forever comforting and needling each other, forever waiting, waiting, waiting…
They bring to life and make sense of the seemingly dense dialogue with their brilliant and detailed characterizations and precise comic timing. The physicality of Mr. McKellen (Gogo) with his sore feet and forgetfulness and Mr. Stewart (Didi) with his need to take a piss every so often make merry their depressing existence, like an old vaudeville team. And there is a palpable love between these two men that is endearing.
A magnetic Shuler Hensley (Pozzo) with his strong southern accent and overpowering personality treats his servant Lucky (Billy Crudup) like a pig as he carries the luggage and collapsible seat around silently while tethered with a noose around his neck, appearing to be a loose limbed marionette until he breaks loose with an amazing speed dial monologue that astounds.
Colin Critchley does an excellent job as Boy – who arrives to tell them that Godot will be delayed. He certainly is learning his craft well with this group of actors.
A week between productions had me still thinking about GODOT. How could they top it with Pinter’s thankfully shorter but menacing and confusing NO MAN’S LAND?
The production’s design by Stephen Brimson Lewis is again excellent with a fully stocked elegant bar now taking up stage center in the den of the famous essayist and critic Hirst (Patrick Stewart) who has picked up Spooner (Ian McKellen) a down on his luck but still erudite poet in a pub. Both are feeling no pain as the play begins continuing to drink late into the evening as they reminisce old times that may have happened or not.
The very nimble Mr. McKellen is a wonder once again simply standing or swaying and holding his coat and drink as Mr. Stewart, Lord of the Manor sits and wonders what this stranger is doing in his house.
A house that Foster (Billy Crudup) who excels in this role of a street wise cockney man of all trades and Briggs (a formidable Shuler Hensley) hold forth in quite a menacing and threatening manner “sharing all burdens”. Are they gay? Are they holding Hirst hostage? Are they protecting him?
It’s all so vague even in Act II which reveals shades of Mr. Pinter’s BETRAYAL plotline (now playing at the Ethel Barrymore Theater) with Hirst telling Spooner how he cuckolded him.
Both Acts end abruptly, with the last line of the play summing up my feelings for the performances of all four actors that should not be missed. I echo it here – “I’ll drink to that” – or to them as the case may be.
At The Cort Theatre. Through March 2, 2014
www.TwoPlaysInRep.com Photos: Joan Marcus
NOTE: PLEASE do not arrive late. PLEASE turn off all electronic equipment including hearing aids if you are using the theatre’s augmented hearing device and PLEASE DO NOT buy any crinkling bags of candies during intermission. Thank you.
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