Review: Waiting for Godot

Waiting for Godot Cort Theatre

This surprisingly sentimental Godot owes its uniqueness to the decades-long friendship of Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart (which dates back to the 1970s). For the first time I believe that Estragon/Gogo (McKellen) and Vladimir/Didi (Stewart) truly have known each other for the endless lengths of time that playwright Samuel Beckett suggests.

Waiting for Godot revolves around two tramps (Gogo and Didi) waiting on a desolate rural road for someone named Godot who may in some way “save” them. Almost nothing happens while they wait, so they pass the time with wordplay, poetry, slapstick — except when landlord Pozzo (Shuler Hensley) and his slave Lucky (Billy Crudup) turn up, spouting their own slightly different sort of nonsense.

Director Sean Mathias seems more focused on the comic and coolly intellectual sides than many interpreters, to very good effect. And he has his stars’ incredibly easy chemistry to work with, which gives the evening a playful suppleness that leavens play’s air of dark, existentialist despair. Their affection for each other is incredibly palpable – this is the first time I’ve seen an audience respond with a heartfelt “Aww” when Didi and Gogo are kind to each other.

McKellen’s humor tends toward the physical and poignant – his Gogo has already put himself past all hope as a way of coping, and does not hesitate to give into animal impulses. Stewart’s approach to Didi is a more verbal and cerebral one: this Vladimir is a deeply disillusioned humanist and moralist, providing a brilliantly austere contrast to McKellen’s feral clowning. Hensely’s and Crudup’s part are smaller and more one-dimensional, but they execute them with great élan.

Godot is a dangerous play: it can be deadly boring if played too reverently. Mathias and this Sir-lead cast have steered clear of this danger, giving us a Godot that is as full as it should be of humor, intelligence and dread – as well as an unexpected amount of warmth.

For tickets, click here.

Review: No Man’s Land

No Man's Land Cort Theatre

It’s a Pinter laugh riot! I’m not a big fan of Pinter, but I thoroughly enjoyed No Man’s Land. It’s the most engaging and comic play of his I’ve come across, even the most humane. And the current Broadway production, starring an ideally cast Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart, is easily the most lucid rendition of Pinter’s famously not lucid dialogue that I’ve ever encountered.

In No Man’s Land, two writers, the wealthy Hirst (Stewart) and the poor Spooner (McKellen), stumble drunkenly into Hirst’s drawing room, and continue plying on the booze. The two may or may not have a history together – as is usual with Pinter, the moment you think you have an important piece of information about somebody, it is suggested that same information might be a lie.

There is a marvelous unforced ease and interplay that McKellen and Stewart have from decades of friendship and working together – they were in the Royal Shakespeare Company together in the 1970s, long before X-Men. Together with director Sean Mathias, they have somehow transformed the menace that Pinter is known for into something altogether more mysterious, even luminous. Love it.

Billy Crudup is suitably sexy as Hirst’s spiky-tempered secretary Foster, who may or may not be bisexual, but is certainly some kind of perv. Shuler Hensley is oddly affecting as Briggs, the butler, who may or may not be “doing” Foster – at the very least he has a man-crush on him. I recommend this as highly as I could ever recommend Pinter – I’ve never enjoyed him more!

For tickets, click here.