January 24, 2002

Waiting for Whom?

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You walk into the Proscenium Theatre at the Center for Theatre Arts (CTA), and you’re not quite sure where the audience ends and the stage begins. The set (if it can be called a set) consists of visible hanging flies and lighting cables. The traditional proscenium stage has been converted into a theatre in the round, or more appropriately, a theatre in the sphere, with actors using all 360 degrees around them for entrances and exits. Sitting through a run-through of Waiting for Godot blurs the conventional boundaries of theatre so much so that the experience can best be described as an existentialist, surreal, fourth wall-bending acid trip.

And that’s the fun of Godot. The characters in Samuel Beckett’s infamous play take the conventions of theatre and, quite literally, piss all over them. The production has been reimagined by guest director, Richard Schechner, ’56. An A.D. White Professor-at-Large, Schechner is best known as [FOR] creating an environmental approach to theatre, and serving as the Artistic Director of East Coast Artists in Manhattan. For this production, he is aided by assistant directors Meghan Gualtieri, and Paige McGinley, both grad students.

The play follows Vladimir and Estragon, as they wait for the arrival of the mysterious Godot. The play was a watershed for the Theatre of the Absurd when it was first performed in 1953. It is now a cornerstone of every high school English class, and is used to interpret the meaning of existence (or the meaningless of existence, depending on your point of view).

Watching Schechner at work was like watching a great artist in his realm. Not only did he impart knowledge to his instruments, but derived a divine pleasure from their talent. He’d nitpick a line incessantly, but when the actors got it right, he grabbed his assistant’s hand in excitement. After trigger-heaping a shoe-smelling gag for ten minutes, he applauded and chuckled when it finally clicked. He made a special mention to me to watch the work of Amin Kirdar (’05), doing a wonderful job with the challenging role of Pozzo. He is an artist who works for the sheer thrill of theatricality.