In the odd limbo of an undecided presidential election, Samuel Beckett's existential mind-bender Waiting for Godot feels particularly appropriate. Does life have a purpose? Do we merely occupy ourselves with meaningless tasks in a vain attempt to fill the void of our existence? If corn oil is made from corn and olive oil from olives, what's baby oil made from?
Theatre Whereabouts, a small theater in a cozy stretch of antique stores and boutiques in downtown Fullerton, made a brave decision to stage this certified modern classic. But the results are mixed. The interesting discoveries made by director Scott Wilson and his cast are tempered by some problematic choices.
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Purists beware. In just one of many moves to make the play his own, Wilson uproots Godot from its French countryside locale and transplants it to post-apocalypse Orange County. Some smaller touches work brilliantly: a pocket watch ( la Salvador Dali) underscores the irrelevance of time. The cruelly abused slave, Lucky (who seems to willingly participate in his mistreatment), mimes a heavy bag while his other props are real; a bit jarring at first, the device ultimately illuminates one of Beckett's many questions about reality: Are the burdens we carry real or imagined?
Ultimately, though, the production misfires. It seems to trust neither Beckett nor the audience's smarts and attention span. Take, for example, the use of linguistic space: others have noted that Beckett approached plays as composers do music, and that the spaces between his words are as vital to the play as the words themselves. They create the emptiness that underscores the futility of life and drives the desperate characters to fill the void. But there is no waiting in this Godot: little or no silence is allowed, which undermines the strong codependent relationship between Kevin P. Murphy's youthful, energetic Vladimir and Don Turner's highly focused and poignant Estragon. Murphy seems almost maniacal in his zeal to rush through every moment, never giving himself, the audience or the text a chance to breathe. Slapstick comedy replaces introspection, and the potential awkwardness of silence, with which Beckett deliberately underscored the piece, is filled with noise.
Still, this is a play one should return to every few years; more is revealed as you look back on it from various points on your journey. And despite its shortcomings, this production is a worthwhile stop along the way.
WAITING FOR GODOT AT THEATRE WHEREABOUTS, 112 E. AMERIGE AVE., FULLERTON, (714) 871-1517. FRI.-SAT., 8 P.M. THROUGH SAT. $13.