Last week, I went to Tin Can Mailman in Arcata and purchased a used copy of Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot and started reading it again for the first time in 20 years. I did this in anticipation of reviewing the performance of the same play in the beautiful new Eureka headquarters of Synapsis at 1675 Union St.
About halfway through the first act, around the appearance of the brute Pozzo and his "slave" Lucky, I tossed the book at the wall, swearing loudly, and called my friend Shea. Waiting for Godot is a maddening play with irritating wordplay stretching out like a parrot's recreation of Abbott and Costello's "Who's on First" routine, with every action debated, litigated, then re-litigated before being poorly undertaken if undertaken at all. It's got a humor in it that is reminiscent of what the late great Norm Macdonald said about death: "... a funny thing. Not funny haha like a Woody Allen movie, but funny strange, like a Woody Allen marriage." It is also infuriating, enigmatic, inscrutable and unbelievably brilliant. In that sense, Waiting for Godot is a good analog for Life Itself, and much like Life Itself, everyone should experience it at least once, and with the company of friends. Lucky for me, Shea took the bait like a chump and agreed to accompany me to the performance. Like myself, he had also read the book as a youngster and never seen the thing acted out before. We were both barely initiated acolytes in the queasy world of the master Beckett.
A quick word about the new Synapsis: It's an absolutely gorgeous space. I'll leave the description there because I want you the reader to come see for yourself and understand what I mean when I say I am really looking forward to seeing it grow as a cherished new venue in our community. What Leslie Castellano and company have done with the place is nothing short of magical.
I won't spend any time analyzing the meaning behind Waiting for Godot because that's not the point of a review and the wordspace needed to properly get a handle on the thing would be too large and tedious for the casual reader. I'll only say that the largest line in my pages of notes was, "The absurdity of meaning," which I underlined. I'll leave it at that. There are themes in Godot worth discussing in depth, which people have been doing for the last 60-plus years. Beckett was the last great Modernist and a wry genius, so it isn't just a static wall of postmodern barking in the dialogue. Far from it.
The play was divided, as is tradition, into two acts running a little more, then a little less, than an hour each, with a nice intermission between. Director John Heckel made an appearance before each act to give an excellent little introduction, at one time referencing the late Irish critic Vivian Mercier's observation that with its two acts, Godot is a play where nothing happens twice. Heckel's thoughtful brevity set a tone which oozed through his deft direction of the action: Everything was played to stimulate that rare space where lower emotions mingle with higher thoughts on a canvas of words and gestures where the chaotic language of the soul is forged. And the actors were fantastic. Larry Crist's wailing and doleful Estragon played a true companion to Bernadette Cheyne's ambitious and Napoleon-like Vladimir, while the second pair, the brutish Pozzo and his unpredictable "slave" Lucky were played perfectly by Sally L'Herogan and Arnold Waddell. L'Herogan's introduction of Pozzo was loud and terrifying, with a gravity and menace that could fit well on the body of a human being twice her size. Waddell's physical acting was excellent and his silent suffering was awesomely matched by the madcap, thinking-cap monologue that spews out of Lucky near the end of the first act like a housefire in a bedlam hospital. Inspired stuff. Finally, Gabriel Cook's appearance as the messenger boy, slinking through the audience like a spectral nurse bringing the welcome relief of eternity, was an unworldly, angelic addition that brought a weird resting calm to the fever of chaos.
As I mentioned before, everyone should experience Waiting for Godot at least once, and this performance at Synapsis is an absolute banger. If you can, bring a friend. Perhaps one whose appearance can be bought for the drinks necessary to digest the whole thing afterwards, like my good buddy Shea, who left the theater as wild-eyed and perplexed as I was. Sometimes, that's just the right state of being.
Waiting for Godot plays at Synapsis on Dec. 10 and 11 at 7:30 p.m. ($15, $25). Mask and proof of COVID-19 vaccination required.
Collin Yeo (he/him) thinks that in a world as deranged as our own, Waiting for Godot will always be timeless. He lives in Arcata.
The Arcata Playhouse tunes in for The Jig and Thistle Radio Hour Holiday Show, a variety show with a live audience at 7 p.m. Dec. 10 and 11. Mask and proof of COVID-19 vaccination required. Visit www.arcataplayhouse.org or call 822-1575.