CTC's Godot shines, amazes at URI

Stephen Strenio and Nevan Richard are Beckett's lovable tramps, Vladimir and Estragon

Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot is a challenging piece of theatre, a dark, austere comedy that depends entirely on the actors, and the Contemporary Theater Company (CTC) production which opened this weekend at URI delivers an oustanding implementation, with insightful direction and compelling, nuanced performances.

The plot is deceptively simple: two tramps, Vladimir and Estragon, pass the time on a bare stage (by the ever-present tree) waiting for the promised arrival of Mr. Godot. They talk. A haughty landowner named Pozzo and his slave Lucky stop by. A child appears with the news that Godot will not be there tonight but surely tomorrow. Night falls. Rinse, repeat.

This is theatre stripped to its esssence, with two actors on a bare stage much of the time, and Stephen Strenio (Vladimir) and Nevan Richard (Estragon) rise to the challenge. Strenio exudes a manic veneer that allows us to feel the hollowness within, beautifully balanced by Richard's doleful, impulsive Estragon. The pair are equally at home in the precision wordplay of the show's several verbal stretti and the broad slapstick that made our 10-year-old laugh out loud.

Christopher Simpson takes his Pozzo in a slightly different direction, but it is a brilliant choice. His bossy, glassy smile nicely layers a post-modern Hollywood sheen over the thoughtless aristocrat, to fracture satisfyingly in the second act. And Maxwell Matthews delivers a bravura performance as Lucky, for whom 90% of the role is mute, carrying Pozzo's bags, held by a rope. But that other ten percent — the "thinking" monologue — is stunning. When Lucky puts on his hat, he thinks out loud (Futurama fans will recognize the trope from Mars University) and it is one of the most difficult, gear-shiftingly complex monologues in the English language. Matthews throws a triple axel.

Director Ryan Hartigan has done a superb job at all levels of detail, from a brilliant overall arc (where the audience enters through the stage with the tramps already there, waiting) to the tiniest character movements and business: the angle at which characters lean, the tortured pantomime of Lucky's dance, the jerks of the rope as it's dragged offstage, the frenetic hat-swapping sequence. This is a show that lives or dies on its assemblage of tiny moments, and Hartigan has strung them expertly.

If you have seen the show before, you'll find this a delightful, inventive, and artistically insightful interpretation. If you haven't, prepare for an evening of theatre which is at least two standard deviations from the mean. Aquidneck Islanders: worth crossing the bridge for. :)

BTW, if you've seen the show before, you'll know that "Godot" is pronounced with the emphasis on the first syllable, just as locals know the correct way to pronounce "Thames" street.

Fridays and Saturdays through the end of July at 7pm in the University of Rhode Island's Lippitt Hall; tickets $15 adult, $12 child.

About the show
Campus maps here
Read about the play on Wikipedia
Read the play at SamuelBeckett.net