Vladimir and Estragon are back in town, albeit for a brief six-performance stint. The Gate Theater, Dublin, production of “Waiting for Godot,” which caused a stir in a few perfs as part of the Lincoln Center Festival in 1996, has returned in Beckett’s centenary year. This “Godot” is considered by many to be definitive, which no doubt will set Beckett fans flocking to the NYU campus at Washington Square.
Production originated in 1988, when the playwright himself asked Gate artistic director Michael Colgan to do a production of the play (first performed in Paris in 1953 as “En Attendant Godot”). The author chose as director his close friend Walter D. Asmus, who was Beckett’s assistant when the scribe staged an acclaimed Berlin production in 1975. Following Beckett’s death in 1989, this production was revived as part of the Gate’s first Beckett Festival in 1991. The Gate “Godot” has been occasionally remounted ever since, giving almost 300 perfs over the years (including at Beckett festivals at London’s Barbican in 1999 and in Beijing in 2004).
What we get is not only a definitive “Godot” but one in which the four principals (under the direction of Asmus) have been acting their roles for almost two decades. Acting is perhaps not the correct word; the lines, movements and emotions are so ingrained in each of them that there is remarkable cohesion.
Barry McGovern gives the central performance as Vladimir (Didi). Beckett’s forlorn pair of survivalists is said to have been influenced by the comedy team of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, but in this case it’s more like Laurel and Laurel. McGovern is tall and lanky, with an oblong pan featuring expressive eyebrows and a pair of eyes that seem to pop at will.
He’s matched by Johnny Murphy’s Estragon (Gogo). The two are like a pair of old, battered shoes — with scuffs and holes in different spots, but nevertheless a matching pair. They complement each other especially well in the vaudeville-like sequences and in those moments of fright and terror.
Alan Stanford commandeers the stage as Pozzo, one of those snarling masters of the universe who returns, in the second act, deflated and defeated. (At the opening perf, Stanford received exit applause after his first-act scene.) Stephen Brennan, after years of playing the slave Lucky, seems to be permanently stunted, more wind-up animal than man.
Effective production design — including a most felicitous moon — is by Louis le Brocquy (according to his program bio, “Ireland’s most distinguished living artist”). Lighting design by the late Rupert Murray (re-created by James McConnell) makes a major contribution, chillingly capturing the incomprehensible terrors of the oncoming night.
The Gate, which last May gave Broadway the acclaimed (and money-making) production of Brian Friel’s “Faith Healer,” is now two-for-two in spellbinding 2006 New York theater.
The famously controversial “Godot” remains — as Brooks Atkinson described the 1956 Broadway premiere — “a mystery wrapped in an enigma.” This production will not cause diehard naysayers to reverse course and genuflect to the genius of Beckett, but it makes a pretty convincing case for those on middle ground, and it’s a must-see for Beckett enthusiasts. The New York run — ending Saturday — is followed by weekend stands in Berkeley, Seattle and Los Angeles (Nov. 15-19 at UCLA’s Freud Playhouse).