WAITING FOR GODOT on an Endless, Aimless Road — Review
An absurdist, teleologically self-annihilating play like Waiting for Godot needs a sturdy hand to guide one through its narrative and thematic enigmas. Director Arin Arbus’ unconsciously aimless production at Theatre for a New Audience, starring Michael Shannon and Paul Sparks, lacks even the suggestion of a take on Samuel Beckett’s 1953 work, which sees two men kill time while awaiting the arrival of a mysterious figure neither is sure to have met.
The production is one of mismatched duos, though it does not mine for juxtaposition. Shannon does his skeptical, squinted-eye thing, and does it well. Sparks has fun playing wide-eyed and clownish. The dichotomy should work as a straight man and foil duo, but Arbus does not direct towards cohesion. Their visitors, the pantomimic Pozzo (Ajay Naidu) and his somnambulous slave Lucky (Jeff Biehl), similarly suffer from feeling like they’ve rehearsed the same play separately, only meeting to perform. That might actually be a fascinating approach to comparable material—or with Toussaint Francois Battiste’s young messenger character—but Godot is far too abstruse a play to not have its players on the same page.
It’s a shame, since Riccardo Hernández’ scenic design sets a striking thematic tone as soon as one is made to take a seat on either side of an two-lane road which dissects the theatre on an upward slant into the wings. Beckett allegedly warned against staging the play in the round, believing his characters need to feel trapped in a proscenium, but Hernández’s decisive break feels right for 2023, when our problems, isolation, and frivolity don’t so much trap us as extend endlessly. This does, however, lead to some issues with sightlines.
In these instances, it feels a bold choice for Arbus to keep some of the action out of sight; an exercise in the futility of thinking that seeing can lead to, not just believing, but understanding. But neither she nor “creative consultant” Bill Irwin, who was so clued into Beckett’s rhythms in last season’s Endgame at Irish Rep, find meaning in their centrifugal parts, or fight to leave a stamp on the material.
Waiting for Godot is in performance through December 3, 2023 at Theatre for a New Audience on Ashland Place in Brooklyn, New York City.