Directors eager to revivify a classic text often resort to strong visual concepts, despite the big risk they carry: once the initial impression of novelty has worn off, what next? With Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, in an engaging production by Classical Theatre of Harlem at the HSA Theatre off-Broadway, the gamble generally pays off, though the designer Troy Hourie’s set presents challenges of movement and balance for the story’s quartet of actors.
Hourie and the director Christopher McElroen have placed the play on a flat- tiled rooftop, surrounded by a small swimming-pool’s- worth of floodwaters. The reference to last year’s Hurricane Katrina is inescapable, though once the existential questions of rescue abate you may find yourself occupied with more mundane matters: Is there chlorine in that water? How long does it take to dry the sopping costumes? Are the actors tempted to splash front-row patrons who may have fallen asleep?
Although the production’s physical aspect may seem a little extreme, there is support for it in the text. Beckett’s overriding metaphor may be the road rather than the rooftop, and floods may go unmentioned, but McElroen is on fairly solid ground with the notion that waiting for Godot is equivalent to waiting for rescue, and that just as Godot famously never comes, so does succour for victims of storms such as Katrina often fail to arrive.
As for Beckett’s text, it is often, as the co-lead Estragon puts it, “blathering about nothing in particular”.
He and Vladimir recall their past, tell jokes, eat. The tyrannical Pozzo arrives to disturb their revelry and his servant, Lucky, delivers a muddled verbal aria, but mostly the main pair exist in their own circumscribed world. Both Wendell Pierce, who plays Vladimir, and J. Kyle Manzay, the Estragon, are CTH mainstays; the former appeared in the theatre’s The Cherry Orchard and the latter in the company’s acclaimed version of Genet’s The Blacks. I am sorry to have missed Manzay’s Hamlet: his lively way with exaggeration and exasperation must have done wonders for the gloomy Dane. ★★★★☆
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