It is one of those plays where what does not happen matters more than what does.
But everything is well worth the wait in Drag Strip Courage’s production of Samuel Beckett’s absurdist comedy Waiting for Godot, which opened Friday at Arts Fifth Avenue.
For those unfamiliar with this iconic work, it deals primarily with Didi and Gogo (or more formally, Vladimir and Estragon), two hobo-types who seem to be at loose ends in about any way you might want to measure that. They find themselves in some desolate place (they seem to have no better idea than we do about where that might be) anticipating the arrival of someone named Godot, whom they believe can put them back on a more focused track. But instead of Godot, they are visited only by the pompous and mysterious Pozzo, who travels with a heavily burdened fellow he keeps on a leash, ironically named Lucky.
All of this plays even stranger than it reads, which is the whole point. Beckett was one of the defining masters of the “theater of the absurd” movement of the 1950s, which also saw the rise of playwrights such as Eugene Ionesco ( The Bald Soprano). So this show is intended to be enjoyed for its intentionally opaque quirkiness.
The success of this production begins with fine performances by the entire cast. Seth Johnston delivers a Gigi who stays very close to the ground (literally and figuratively). He is more interested in picking up leftover food and figuring out how to take off his boots than he is in sorting out the complexities of human existence. George X. Rodriguez’s Didi, on the other hand, is much more intellectual and passionate about their mission (or lack thereof). They work off each other beautifully to build their highly contrasting characters.
Their efforts are well matched by Michael Muller as Pozzo and Michael E. Muller as Lucky. This father-son team makes the absolute most of the supporting roles. The elder Muller’s domineering Pozzo is fussy and officious as he vainly attempts to find his footing in the play’s nonsensical landscape. And the younger Muller comes through nicely in a speech that is his one big moment in the show.
The direction by Rob Bosquez shows a loving respect for Beckett’s language and rhythms. He does a great job of creating and maintaining the off-kilter world of the play, and manages to infuse it with movement without ever forcing the issue.
Finally, the cozy, no-frills space in which the show is played also helps the cast maintain its grip on the audience. The players often work the seated area of the theater, making the experience highly immediate and intimate.
About the only slight sticking point in this production is its pronunciation of “Godot.” In recent years, some have taken to pronouncing the name GOD-oh, with the accent on the first syllable, rather than the more commonly heard Guh-DOH, with the accent on the second syllable. This production chooses to go with the revised pronunciation (which its defenders say is the way Beckett pronounced it), and it comes off as a bit pretentious.
But this little “you say potatoes” issue is not a big deal. To worry about something as minor as that in a production this good would be, well, absurd.