Center Theater Group has mounted a landmark production of Waiting for Godot, one which will not be topped in this, or perhaps any other, age. The production, now on tap at Mark Taper Forum, was directed by Michael Arabian and is acted by two specialists in Beckett, Alan Mandell and Barry McGovern (with strong supporting work by James Cromwell, Hugo Armstrong and LJ Benet).
Mandell, 84, first played Vladimir in 1957, in the Actor's Workshop production that famously premiered at San Quentin Prison. Now he has switched to the role of Estragon, playing him with a sweetly-sad poignancy, a world-weary, edgily-comic persona.
McGovern, as Estragon, the tougher half of the decrepit old vaudeville team, has also specialized in Beckett over the years, mostly at Dublin's Gate Theater. (This summer at the Edinburgh International Festival he will unveil his solo show, WATT, drawn from the Beckett novel). Together these veteran Beckett interpreters work in impeccable harmony as they wait for the elusive Mr Godot, despairing of their impoverished fate, remembering better days, revisiting juggling and slapstick routines.
Cromwell (currently featured in “The Artist”) delivers a bracing performance as the brutish slave-owner Pozzo; Hugo Armstrong is perfect as his captive, the ironically named Lucky. LJ Benet registers strongly as the young messenger delivering the news that, once again, Mr Godot will be a no-show.
Arabian and designer John Iacovelli have set the action in a bleak landscape dominated by a single, stunted tree. Brian Gale's lighting and projection design help create an atmosphere that is both dreamlike and real, no mean feat.
As Kenneth Tynan once said, "Godot jettisons everything by which we recognize theater...It has no plot, no climax, no denouement, no beginning, no middle, and no end." Done poorly, the play has bored and even annoyed me. This time around, though, I was truly captivated by it.