Credit: Matthew Thompson

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What is the point of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot? Is it a devilish exercise in intellectual onanism, designed to torture, frustrate, and garrote its hapless audience? Or is it a brilliant illustration of our human inclination to create meaning, to construct drama, and to stage theater, while we live, wither, and wait to die? Is it a dreadfully dreary play, a plotless horror sans coherence? Or is it a beautiful play in which the language has its unique brand of poetry, the vaudeville routines entertain, and the barren landscape illustrates the utter hopelessness of existence? Is it a complete waste of time? Or is it a dazzling meditation on wasted time? Is it the worst of plays or the best of plays? The current production, presented by Ireland’s Druid Theatre at the Lansburgh Theatre proves to me that this is indeed, the best of plays. 

The mystery unfolds over the course of two acts on Francis O’Connor’s eerie set featuring a country road, a stone, and a tree. Two bowler-hatted tramps populate the landscape. Tall, bearded, Vladimir (Didi to his only friend) chats with short, bearded Estragon (Gogo to his only friend). The friends wait for a Mr. Godot, who never appears. The acts are punctuated by the appearance of two more characters: a landlord, Pozzo, and his hunched, inaptly named servant, Lucky

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Vladimir, played by Marty Rea, is the more philosophical tramp. With a gangly body and expressive face, Rea looks and is funny. His counterpart, the short, slightly rounded Estragon, played by Aaron Monaghan, is the earthier fellow who, as the show starts, struggles to take his boot off. When his character cannot do so, Monaghan’s shrugged resignation, “nothing to be done,” captures the essence of the play. And as these two characters wait, questioning if they are even in the right spot to meet this enigmatic Godot, their situation, accentuated by their desolate surroundings, becomes progressively unbearable.

To pass time, the two engage in games, playing with boots and bowler hats, dramatizing their despair and isolation in physical comedy. Then, sparring verbally, often drawing on religious themes, it becomes clear that the pair cannot even remember the previous day accurately. When time becomes irrelevant, only the present matters.

Into this void enter Pozzo, played with ample hauteur by Rory Nolan, and Lucky, played by Garrett Lombard. Nolan’s Pozzo is a forceful, posturing, condescending ass who takes control of the stage. To entertain the two tramps, Pozzo offers to have his servant sing, dance, or recite, and Vladimir stumps for speech. When the heretofore quiet Lucky launches into his declamation, he drives the whole ensemble mad, unleashing his philosophical baggage in a tirade that reminds the audience that God, if he exists, is uncaring, and that humans decay and die.

Lombard is given a poisoned chalice: one of the most unenviable roles in dramatic literature. Lucky’s speech is incoherent. It is supposed to be difficult to understand and it is supposed to be unleashed in a torrent that drives everybody mad. Through different stagings, I have yet to see this speech and catch every word of it; I fear I am to be kept waiting.

Despite my disappointment at still not being able to comprehend this speech fully, I thoroughly enjoyed this production. Garry Hynes’ direction is excellent; under her eye the vaudeville routines are enjoyable, and Rea and Monaghan relay the music and poetry of Beckett’s language wonderfully. The second act, where, to wit, nothing happens, again, gives Nolan the opportunity to expand Pozzo’s role.

This play is now part of the modern canon. Over the years, it has frustrated some theatergoers and charmed others. For its genus, this is an excellent production, and highly recommended. Tune your ear to the lilt of the language, to the rhythm of the words, to the absurdity and tragedy of the human condition, to the terror of waiting. If, however, the ear is tin, well then, there is nothing to be done. 

At the Lansburgh Theatre to May 20. 450 7th St. NW. $44–$92. (202) 547-1122. shakespearetheatre.org