Fort Worth — To some extent, Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot is as much a Rorschach test as it is a play. Each production reveals as much about the theater company’s artistic vision as it does the play itself. Beckett’s script, comprised of deep literary and philosophical fragments and generously peppered throughout with poop and fart jokes, allows ample room for interpretation, with productions typically ranging from pure Laurel and Hardy slapstick pastiche to lofty Sartrean existential angst.
Godot inaugurates the recently established in-house theater of the Fort Worth Community Arts Center (FWCAC), headed by Jason Leyva, who already has an extensive and impressive career both onstage as well as backstage. For this production, Leyva serves as production manager and set, sound, and costume designer, in addition to playing the bombastic Pozzo. Theater fans will remember his award-winning work with Firehouse Theatre and his own production company L.I.P. Service.
Shawn Gann shines as former poet Estragon, or Gogo. While many productions cast the character as the more subdued of the duo, Gann’s Gogo tips toward the manic. Instead of strictly adhering to Beckett’s stage directions for him to groan, for example, Gann explodes in pantomimed hysteria, complete with wailing and gnashing of teeth.
Conversely, the typically more forceful Vladimir, or Didi for short, comes across as more reserved and more resigned in Bert Pigg’s characterization, which includes a pronounced limping shuffle. Both experienced and adept actors commit to their interpretations, allowing for yet another way to understand what happens onstage in a play where nothing really happens.
Leyva’s Pozzo is deliciously haughty in Act One. He affectedly fumbles with his pocket watch to compulsively check the time, making his declaration in Act Two that “The blind have no notion of time” all the more woeful. As the play’s sole character who experiences a genuine transformation, this Pozzo relies on understatement in order make known his changed state of affairs. With Estragon and Vladimir’s antics, it’s easy to forget that Pozzo, with Lucky, remains collapsed on the floor near center stage for about one-third of the second act.
The tragically misnamed Lucky is skillfully played by Zach Leyva, who manages to successfully navigate a role that is somehow both passively slavish and insolently abusive. He captures Lucky’s physicality that ranges from the servile to the ecstatic. Andrew Cave capably plays the Boy who returns—or is it his brother?—at the end of each act to pass along a message from Mr. Godot. There is a lot to appreciate with this fine cast.
Seth Johnston, a remarkable actor in his own right, directs this production. He takes the cue from Beckett’s script to further dissolve the fourth wall, having lines such as Vladimir’s “This is becoming really insignificant” play directly to the audience. Further intensifying the meta-theatricality is Estragon’s hysterical shriek whenever Vladimir delivers a line that includes the play’s title. Johnston’s having the characters milk the opening scene, allowing both of them time “alone” onstage before beginning their lines, proves an inspired choice.
As the production’s set designer Leyva leaves dried mulch scattered across the stage floor, which emphasizes the barren landscape. Platform risers take the place of the countryside’s low mound. A quasi-constructivist tree that is as much artifice and technology as it is nature appears rooted upstage center. Tree branches extend out from a metal trunk, suggesting that the landscape could just as easily be an abandoned factory as a mound of dirt. Bryan Douglas’ work as light designer helps to set the play’s tone, with even a hint of clouds passing overhead.
As costume designer, however, Leyva makes a couple of distracting choices. First, Vladimir’s suit is noticeably of better quality and in better shape than Estragon’s, except that there are a handful of obvious cuts in the fabric. Second, Lucky’s hair reads more as a glittery silver faery wig than the “long white hair” that Vladimir and Estragon see as a sign of Lucky’s advanced age. And third, the Boy’s puzzling makeup that consists of a smear of black across his cheek. It appears as if the Boy is more chimney sweep than goatherd.
In spite of these minor shortcomings, FWCAC’s production of Waiting for Godot has a lot to offer, from its stellar cast to its original interpretation of the Beckett classic. This is one time that good things do come to those who wait.