The electronic billboard at Orange Coast College touts “Waiting for Godot” this way: “Humor! Comedy! Ha!--Ha!--Ha!” Maybe they should have added, “By Sammy Beckett, that gagster of ennui! That joker of Angst!”
Well, folks, “Waiting for Godot” isn’t really that big a hoot. Let’s call it a “tragicomedy,” with alienation and desperation as the twin punch lines.
The billboard is misleading in another way too.
Director Glendele Way, to her credit, approaches Samuel Beckett’s obtuse and difficult theater-of-the-absurd classic fairly straight. Her actors do goof off every now and then, and there are some pratfalls, but this is essentially a serious effort.
That doesn’t mean it’s good, though. For one thing, “Godot” is a play that welcomes a measure of comic invention; in fact, that may be the only way to make it accessible.
For instance, the Steve Martin-Robin Williams’ collaboration last year in New York had the crowds smiling and thinking at the same time, according to the critics in their many raves.
Unfortunately, the Orange Coast College Repertory Theatre Company’s production lacks the sort of peak invention that can give “Godot” resonance. When Way does turn to humor, it’s mainly silly stuff that doesn’t underscore the existential dread at work. We get extraneous asides, like Vladimir (Russell Dunn) and Estragon (Gil Fuhrer), the play’s hopeless, hapless heroes, high-fiving during one of their brief moments of shared joy.
Of course, “Godot” is quite a challenge for a college troupe, especially the actors--they’ve got to fill in where Beckett doesn’t.
The play has left a wake of confounded theatergoers since first opening in New York in 1956, and even the best casts have been stumped by Vladimir and Estragon and their endless waiting for the anonymous Godot who never does show up.
(Bert Lahr, who played Estragon during the premier run, supposedly didn’t have a clue to what was going on. No problem--both audiences and reviewers loved his befuddled, anxious performance, which says something about the nature of “Godot” itself.)
At OCC, Fuhrer and Dunn give it the old college try but don’t explore their characters enough. They get disturbed and worried and nervous, but it all should be less mannered and more evocative.
Fuhrer and Dunn do have one thing in common with Lahr, though: The crowd at Friday’s opening night performance apparently liked what the actors were doing, even if they may not have always got it.
‘WAITING FOR GODOT’
An Orange Coast College Repertory Theatre Company production of Samuel Beckett’s play. Directed by Glendele Way. With Gil Fuhrer, Russell Dunn, Mark Coyan, Kelly A. Flynn and Julie Ackerman. Lighting by Lonnie Alcaraz and Fay Furness.