Just thinking about Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot makes me smile. I have seen a few productions. I even auditioned for the role of Lucky decades ago at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. A friend saw the audition and judged it “dynamite.” The director wasn’t so enthusiastic. Soon thereafter, we packed our bags and headed for New York where I had better luck. But about the play. A look in Wikipedia shows all kinds of interpretations as to the meaning of the show with sages weighing in with all sorts of interpretations—Freudian, Jungian, existential, religious, on and on—smarty pants of all sorts trying to make some kind of sense of it. When asked what it is all about, Beckett has been recorded as saying, “It’s all symbiosis…it’s symbiosis.”
Playwright David Hanson’s Waiting for Waiting for Godot is its own inspired tragi-comedy nestled into a backstage dressing room where two understudies wait to be called to the stage to perform their roles of Vladimir and Estragon in Waiting for Godot in the event of an emergency. Hanson’s play tilts rather a bit more on the scale towards comedy than tragedy and it soon becomes clear that the two schmucks, Ester (Bruno Oliver) and Val (Joe Hernandez-Kolski) will never get to set foot in front of an audience. The title says it all.
This production is blessed with two extraordinary comedic actors. It doesn’t take long to see that, under the inspired direction of Jacob Sidney, the production owes a lot to Laurel and Hardy. Ester is a big man who tries endlessly to fit into a vest that he resolutely maintains is his. The first hilarious ten minutes or so of the play is taken up with his futile efforts to button that vest. Val enters with two cups of coffee and immediately begins comic business with sugar packets. Mr. Hernandez-Kolski is short and slim with a face, I swear, that calls to mind Stan Laurel.
As the play progresses, there is a lot of talk about acting with Ester taking the role of mentor to Val. Energetic physical and verbal comedy abounds that had this audience member chortling, giggling and guffawing throughout. It would take pages to describe the show’s inspired physical comedy, but suffice it say that a conflict over Ester’s beloved, ill-fitting vest devolves into an intricately fought war of willful physical entanglement that went on and on. And Mr. Oliver’s turn as an out of control ape taking on the characters of classic movie heroes would be futile to describe. There is genius at work here.
Throughout the play, indistinct, muffled talking can be heard from far off as Waiting for Godot is performed on the real stage. At intermission, a harried assistant stage manager (Julie Marchiano) enters looking for a vest. It seems that the onstage Estragon has a vest that is two sizes too big for him. Hmmm, I wonder? Ms. Marchiano has a weary, no-nonsense affect that contrasts beautifully with the cloud-cuckoo world of Ester and Val.
Waiting for Waiting for Godot is handsomely mounted with a spot on scenic design by Aaron Francis, lighting by Kaitlin Chang, and a superbly cluttered prop design by Joyce Hutter. Sound design is by Adriana Colón; fight choreography by Edgar Landa; and physical comedy consulting by Stephen Simon. Rachel Manheimer manages the stage with palpable expertise.
Produced by Travis Snyder-Eaton, with assistant producer Jessie Bias, Waiting for Waiting for Godot continues through December 14 at The Broadwater Second Stage, 6320 Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood.