Beautiful Lies

Theater they are. What could be more theatrical than a couple of baggy-pants comedians going through their routines -- the old tight-shoes bit, the oldmultiple-hats bit. One of them even does the drop-your-baggy-pants bit. Tragic farce, some have called it. For we are in the tragic world of Lear, a world of pointless suffering. But there are no kings and no grandeur in the suffering, just a couple of little guys with sore feet and a urinary-tract infection. No kingdoms are at stake, just another day to be endured until Godot either comes or doesn't come. The clowns stumble around, farcically, but the absurdity keeps shifting from the brightly comic to the darkly tragic.

Beckett has calibrated this action of waiting very carefully. Though his protagonists lead meager lives, their words and activities radiate surprising energy and resonate with implications. Some passages, like the one about the dead voices, achieve a musical quality. Those who know Godot inside out know precisely how these words and actions should be performed, much as they know precisely how Hamlet should be performed or a Beethoven symphony should be played -- what the tempi should be, where the emphases should be placed. No actual performance will ever quite match that ideal.

Given that fact, yes, I think the current staging by Midnight Productions often fails to give full value to the script's pauses and could make more of its transitions. But under Michelle Rebollo's direction, the performers often get the music right. Joe Hanrahan surprised me with the range of his performance as Estragon. I especially like the ways he gives vent to the character's frustrated anger. His Estragon is clearly a man of feeling, of instant response, not reflection.

Vladimir, in contrast, controls his emotions -- it hurts to laugh -- and tries to think things through. I have often been impressed by David Wassilak's ability to imply turbulent inner activity beneath a passive surface. But this time I too often saw just the passive surface and glimpsed the reality of the character beneath it only occasionally.

Not physically imposing, Larry Dell might seem a curious choice for Pozzo, the wealthy, domineering master of the abused servant Lucky. But Dell makes it work by playing Pozzo as a kind of country squire, confident in his superiority, humorous and ironic, only rarely needing to raise his voice. As the suffering servant who delivers a garbled message about God, Christopher Lawyer suffers convincingly. He has chosen to deliver the message like an automaton, with little expression until he grows frantic at the end -- not, for me, the best choice, but certainly a justifiable one. As Godot's messenger, young Colin Fay reacts well in his encounters with the two tramps.

Wassilak's set and lighting create an exact visual image for the play on the small St. Marcus stage -- stark white walls, a jagged black tree and a large rock. Betsy Krausnick has provided costumes realistically appropriate to the characters' stations.

Best of all, this Godot doesn't push either to be funny or to be meaningful. That's as it should be.

-- Bob Wilcox

Harvey
By Mary Chase
Alpha Players

The occasional sly digs in the script supply just enough vinegar to keep the delightful whimsy of Mary Chase's Harvey from being cloying. I almost always enjoy this gently satirical fantasy, and I enjoyed it again at the Alpha Players.

Chase's dialogue can sound a little stilted these days. It must be handled with care. So must her characters, who all deserve at least a little of our sympathy. Sometimes the players at Alpha go overboard in making them ridiculous and lose their humanity. And too often the pace sags from lax cue pickup and hesitant line delivery. But led by Brian Hassell's winsome performance of Elwood P. Dowd, the production preserves the charm of Chase's comedy despite these occasional lapses.

-- Bob Wilcox

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