Review: Waiting for Godot (Soulpepper)

Photo from Waiting for GodotSoulpepper Theatre presents the 20th Century classic play Waiting for Godot in Toronto

For many who have studied acting, Samuel Beckett‘s Waiting for Godot is likely part of the curriculum. And rightly so, as there is much to be learned from studying this play, especially if you’re learning the tricks of the trade for good audience-captivating comedy. The careful nuances of timing, repetition, monumental silence, mime and mimicry, as well as wholly absurd dialogue is what makes up Waiting for Godot. This is a 20th Century classic for a reason and, as usual, the creative forces at Soulpepper have delivered this unique performance with aplomb.

Remember Seinfeld? When summing up that quirky ’90s comedy, the one description that most people ultimately settle upon is that it’s a show about nothing. Yes, there’s a loose plot but never a concrete one. The dialogue rambles, ultimately loops in circles, and is just downright whacky. Waiting for Godot reminds me of that.

In Waiting for Godot, two wayward and road weary travellers — Estragon (Oliver Dennis) and Vladimir (Diego Matamoros) — have stopped in the middle of nowhere to wait. ‘Godot’ is most certainly on his way. While they wait, they discuss, quibble and squabble over the comings and goings of life. As dusk descends, a distant figure approaches.

My guest Vance and I simply loved this performance. So much, in fact, that his contagious chuckles turned into knee-slapping cackles and drew a few eyes in the audience our way.

Performances aside, the stage is captivating to look at. I’ve said this plenty of times before, but the Soulpepper team knows how to create a great set, even if it’s a barren tree in the middle of nowhere. Set designer Lorenzo Savoini does a fine job here. The run-down concrete walls, the skeleton tree, and the debris used as seats were just great to look at and perfectly captures that gnarly ‘standing in an underpass’ feel.

Matamoros and Dennis have incredible chemistry as they play off each other. Both are bumbling buffoons, but unique in their own way, with one more frustrating than the other (though it’s hard to say which one). I love how Matamoros’ Vladimir is ever so slightly more the straight man of the pair so that Dennis’ humor and slapstick have a place to land. The moment when Vladimir helps Estragon put his boots on, first when Estragon raises the wrong foot a few times, and then when they’re hopping around in unison trying to keep balance, had me in stitches.

When Pozzo (Rick Roberts) and his manservant Lucky (Alex McCooeye) approach from the distance, events truly go awry. Watching Roberts play Pozzo is cringeworthy–it’s supposed to be if you have compassion as a human. Every yank on the rope around Lucky’s neck, every shouted one-word demand, every spit of a dehumanizing slur set my teeth on edge. As more of Pozzo’s character is revealed in his interactions with Vladimir and Estragon, it becomes clear how degraded his sense of reality has become.

McCooeye’s Lucky is definitely one bizarre character. Regarded very much as Pozzo’s slave, his reactions are immediate. Pozzo refers to him as simply dumb but is he really? When given the demand to “THINK!”, the resulting rapid-fire monologue is something to behold. The pace at which McCooeye delivers it is startling. Vance enjoyed this so much that I reminded him to learn the monologue for auditions.

Waiting for Godot is a play that, much like Seinfeld, can easily be studied at length. There’s a lot of material to investigate in this too-hour play and as absurd as the dialogue is, the depths of these characters are fathomless. It also raises numerous questions, namely who is Godot and why are they waiting? When asked Beckett would always reply with non-answers as these questions were, and always will be, up for interpretation. Personally, I find this kind of theatre to be entertaining brain candy that will play in my mind for days to come.

Details:

  • Waiting for Godot is playing at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts (50 Tank House Lane) until October 7 2017.
  • Performances run Mondays to Saturdays at 8 pm with additional Saturday and select Wednesday matinees at 2 pm.
  • Tickets range from $35 – $95, see website for details.
  • Tickets can be purchased online, in person at the Young Centre box office, or by phone by calling 416 866 8666.
  • Audience Advisory: This production contains loud noises and fog/haze effects. Estimated run time is 2 hours, 35 minutes with a 20 minute intermission.

Photo of Oliver Dennis, Alex McCooeye, Diego Matmoros and Rick Roberts by Cylla von Tiedemann