Wait up. You may walk into the Dock Street Theatre still nursing a cognitive hangover from junior-year grapples with Waiting for Godot, Samuel Beckett's seemingly inscrutable masterwork. Consider checking those at the door, lest your baggage kill the buzz of the jovially bleak, emotionally rich production that now blows our way, courtesy of Ireland's Druid under the direction of Garry Hynes.
Godot, after all, was always meant to be funny. Beckett-heads have noted that he styled Vladimir and Estragon, the play's two prat-falling, prattling cohorts, on Laurel and Hardy. In fact, some bits are apparently direct lifts from the bowler-crowned, mismatched comic duo that lit up the silver screen in the 1930s with site gags and slapstick. It was then that the Irish playwright was at work on the text in its original French version, before its Paris debut in 1953.
So, yes, Didi (Marty Rea) and Gogo (Aaron Monaghan), as the two call one another, amble about a stark stage, waiting, whining, wondering, wailing, and waiting some more. And, yes, as Gogo at one point moans, there's a fair bit of "blathering about nothing in particular." Not unlike an average day for any of us, theirs is measured out in pat phrases and empty gestures, as they peevishly, plaintively pace the barren soil, playing out their own interpersonal dynamics while suspended in an endless waiting game. Didi forever seeks the comfort of Gogo; Gogo forever mulls a parting of ways.
Given this grim lot in life, however, the two pull off being doggedly funny, too – perhaps because everything they endure is so terribly true. What the Druid ensemble, with Hynes at the helm, has so skillfully coaxed out of a famously confounding text is the plausibility and palpability of every line and impulse—a considerable feat of acting so organic and authentic that its deceptive ease may be lost on those who have long since repressed memories of lesser productions of the play. Didi and Gogo alternately cling and disentangle, engage and distract, hope and despair, all while counting on the entrance of some rather random entity to confer meaning on their lives. And, as they wait, all manmade bearings break down – time, memory, truth, reality.
The unbearable lightness of being Didi and Gogo is highlighted all the more with the entrance of Pozzo (Rory Nolan) and Lucky (Garrett Lombard), who trudge onto stage in a chilling master-slave arrangement. It appalls Didi and Gogo, who nonetheless entreat Pozzo to have Lucky do their bidding, if only to pass the time. The fatuous Pozzo, who is so cruel to his so-called menial, is at the same time so enchained by social mores that he is unable to so much as sit without the proper entreaties.
A standout moment in the play is Lucky's famous monologue, when he is charged by Pozzo to "think." A stream-of-conscientious virtuosic power rant animates the previously deadened slave, with Lombard's delivery bringing to my mind the cacophony of our present Information Age, our spliced-together half-thoughts from Google searches and the media that are unleashed on us all.
Throughout, the Druid hews to Beckett's express intention in its staging of the play, with a spare platform, one nude tree, a rounded rock, all set in front of a grey washed scrim that subtly changes hue as the dreary day progresses into night.
So, yes, expect to wait along with Didi and Gogo. While you wait, you would do well to stretch a bit, too. To do so, weigh well Beckett's loaded language, accept the play's aching resonance, and stare down the whole of the human condition, which may or may not ever give you a gander at Godot.