Grin and Beckett

Photo by John BeaneIf you like Samuel Beckett, you'll probably like the Insurgo Theater Movement's ongoing production of Waiting for Godot. If you don't, you'll probably be going over your shopping list by the 10-minute mark.

Directed by Insurgo head cheese John Beane and co-directed by Russ Marchand, both of whom also star as the play's comic tramps, Vladimir and Estragon, this Godotdeftly manages to tap into Beckett's intellectual brilliance without compromising the demanding physical comedy and verbal linguistics his play requires.

It's not a definitive production. Beckett purists could undoubtedly find fault with everything from the production's stuttering rhythms and its questionable scenic attributes to the presence of sound cues that give the impression that an angry mob lurks off-stage, ready to pummel characters every time they exit. (Although a beating is referenced early in the script, it's the fact that only three other characters are heard in this world that imbues Beckett's play—and his tramps—with the claustrophobic intensity it needs to truly not-breathe).

Marchand's antic Vladimir, Beane's disarmingly hapless Estragon, Michael Serna's pompously controlling Pozzo and Tadao Ogihara's abused Lucky all create thoroughly distinctive, wholly believable characters—and by focusing on the relationship between the principal characters, and treating them like people rather than symbolic archetypes a la Everyman, this production has a refreshingly honest, non-grad-school feel to it. Beane and crew don't seem bent on proving that Godotis the Great Existential Masterpiece of the 20th Century, as much as illustrating that it's the relatively simple story of two characters trapped in a completely ridiculous world that makes no logical sense.

All of Beckett's poetry and ideas are still here: the acute sense of characters who feel isolated and lonely but who yearn for connection with one another; the constantly faulty notion of human memory; the desperately comic attempts to fill the hours of the day with any kind of distraction; the moments of inspiration that hit you like an electric shock and then are gone just as quickly. But this Godot also winds up fostering a sense of connection between audience and actor that is rarely seen in most overly windy Beckett productions.

That notion is crystallized in the production's final image. After all the clowning, quoting, speculating and, of course, waiting, the two tramps make a futile attempt to hang themselves. They then decide to leave, to take positive action for once—but they stay motionless. They stand alone, staring into the heavens with nothing to do but wait for something to come along to give all their struggles meaning. And just as the lights begin to fade, Beane's Estragon glances, every so slightly, at Marchand's Vladimir. That very subtle, very simple glance helps amplify what may be Beckett's main intent in Godot:hell may be other people, but it's the only hell we've got.

Insurgo Theater, 4883 E. La Palma, Anaheim Hills, (714) 517-7798. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m. Thru Feb. 8. $12-$15.


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