Sometime last spring Karen Miller read in the NY Times that Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart were coming to Broadway in productions of Harold Pinter’s *No Man’s Land* and Samuel Beckett’s *Waiting for Godot*. We both started drooling uncontrollably, and I bought us tickets for the Pinter, and tickets for the two of us plus her beloved, Bruce, for the Beckett.
WAITING FOR GODOT
Karen says Beckett’s *Waiting for Godot* is seen as the most important play of the 20th century, and I can’t think of a play I would place above it. I first read it in college, and it thrilled me, I read it over and over again. This is the third production I’ve seen: I saw one in Madison, at Madison Repertory Theatre, with local actors I don’t know - - the previous Broadway production, with Bill Irwin as Vladimir, Nathan Lane as Estragon, John Goodman as Pozzo, and John Glover as Lucky - - and this production, with Stewart as Vladimir, McKellen as Estragon, Hensley as Pozzo, and Crudup as Lucky.
Each time I see the play it turns into a Beckett experience in itself: I go to the theatre longing for the beauty and transcendence that I see in the play, and I come away with an overwhelming sense of disappointment. I talked with Karen about this after the last Broadway production: for me, based on the productions I’ve seen, it doesn’t work as a play - - it’s a work of literature, and not a work of theatre. It doesn’t hold the stage. I’m enthralled by it as a book, but bored by it as a play. Last night I napped a bit, with no guilt at all. And I found myself thinking about what I was going to make for breakfast: oatmeal? Yes, oatmeal with raisins and maple syrup, that sounds delicious.
I found this production more satisfying than the other Broadway production, and it was because of the performances by McKellen and Stewart. Their camaraderie was so deep, it made the whole play more charming than I thought it could be. There are two moments when they briefly hug each other, and a moment when McKellen leans his head against Stewart’s shoulder, and Stewart sings him a lullaby - - the high points of the show, so touching and tender. They both displayed complete mastery of the stage, as expected, McKellen taking honors for his stunning physicality, he communicates so much by doing so little, and he used his voice with such artistry.
Hensley was a little too broad as Pozzo, not really to my taste. Crudup gave a bravura performance as Lucky, was disturbing in his dance and brilliant in his abstract monologue. One final thing: the set was beautiful, and the lighting blew me away. There was a huge white spotlight covering most of the stage at the end of each act, and it was chilling.
PS - - For the other half of this double bill, click here: