Watching Druid theater company’s production of Waiting for Godot, the first thing that strikes you is the seeming emptiness of the stage. Set out in front of a gravel-colored backdrop is a narrow, rusted-colored tree opposite a large white stone resembling a massive egg. In the beginning, it almost feels too open for a play that will feature no more than four characters on the stage at any one time. It feels like this space will seemingly swallow out our two protagonists — the beleaguered Estragon and Vladimir — as they continue their ceaseless wait for a mysterious man named Godot.
But the amazing thing that you slowly begin to notice is how the production, in a way, seems to shrink or expand to fill the open space. At times, during their most hopeless moments, Estragon and Vladimir feel miles away, their backs turned to one another. Then, at other moments, the stage feels more like an obstacle course as the actors dart and stagger from one side to the next, thanks in part to designer Francis O’Connor and movement director Nick Winston. For a show based around waiting, this production always maintains a kinetic energy — whether it be through the jerky mannerisms our the characters or the rapid-fire dialogue.
Marty Rea performs Vladimir with the physicality of a Looney Tunes character, his body exaggerating every gesture to either comedic or devastating effect. At times, it appears Rea’s Vladimir will never cease pacing across the stage, never cease running his mouth in a futile effort to stave off the hopelessness that surrounds them. But then, eventually, he pauses — and the weight of the characters’ situation sets in. They’ve lost memory of much of their past and the world around them. All they know is they are waiting on Godot, but the reason why is never really explained. And when Rea allows his incredibly tall, narrow frame to go slack, he looks less like a man and more like a set of tattered clothing hanging from a coat rack.
Balancing Rea’s rubber-faced performance is Aaron Monaghan as Estragon. While Rea roams the stage like a caged tiger, Monaghan’s Estragon can barely support the weight of his own frame. He often staggers from point to point, his legs bent and unsteady. Monaghan’s weary portrayal is the physical manifestation of his character’s mental exhaustion. He remembers he was a poet, but little else comes to mind. All he really knows is things were better at one time.
Serving as welcome foils for Vladimir and Estragon — and a welcome distraction from their waiting — are Pozzo and his slave Lucky. Rory Nolan’s Pozzo is a bold and regal bright spot in the desperate wasteland in which the story is set. But despite his clean, neatly tailored attire, the character’s pale, pasty complexion gives his character a grotesque quality, as does his treatment of his servant, Lucky.
Garrett Lombard (Lucky) spends most of his time on stage hunched forward, bent from the heavy luggage he carries. Lucky is tethered to his master by a thick, long noose that hangs from his neck. He makes no noise barely showing his face until launching into a single, machinegun-fire monologue that drew applause from the crowd. Without pausing for breath or taking a beat to collect his thoughts, Lombard barrels through one of the show’s most thrilling moments before being reduced once more to a beast of burden.
Rounding out the cast at this performance was Boris Pekar, a sixth-grader at Charleston School of the Arts, who filled the role of the boy. Meekly stepping out from the side of the stage, Pekar brought a fearful blankness to his role that proved affecting.
With Druid’s production of Waiting for Godot, Director Garry Hynes has presented a more sympathetic side of Beckett’s work. Waiting for Godot has always served as an ideal receptacle analysis — vague enough to service any theory, but too slippery to be nailed down to any one critic. Almost 70 years since it was first written, Waiting for Godot now feels even more alien in a society increasingly based upon instant gratification. Not only does Godot fail to arrive, there is no immediate resolution to any question of dilemma presented in the play. History has vanished and memory is a scarce commodity. There are no manufactured distractions in the world of Waiting for Godot. There is only human interaction and the persistence of hope.