Wednesday, February 10, 2016


By Toby Zinman



By Toby Zinman

For the Inquirer

Scratch a great Shakespearean actor and find a great vaudevillian. Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart, two giants of the stage (and screen) are having a conspicuously and irresistibly fine time in Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. Only imagine: the play that mystified sophisticated audiences in London and Paris sixty years ago, has become a hot ticket on Broadway.

And what a play it is, earning its iconic status night after night, year after year, as profound and funny as ever. Or moreso.  In the immortal words of the two geezers who speak for the play--and for us all: “Where do you go from here?” and the reply is, “On.”

Vladimir (Stewart) and Estragon (McKellen), aka Didi and Gogo,wait in the middle of nowhere day after day for somebody named Godot to show up. He doesn’t. Each day he sends a boy to say he cannot come but will surely come tomorrow.  While waiting, they do what we do: talk, sleep, dream, dance, sing, exercise, pray, complain, reminisce, forget, remember, quarrel, make up.  More than anything, in this interpretation by director Sean Mathias, Godot is a portrait of a friendship, which, given the real-life friendship between the two actors (McKellen recently officiated at Stewart’s wedding), is palpable and endearing.

In the midst of one of their endless days, they meet two people: Pozzo (the astonishing Shuler Hensley, using a booming, hog-calling Texas accent) and his slave, Lucky (Billy Crudup, graceful and jittery and twitchy and frail). In Act Two, they reappear: time passes, stuff happens. (As one witty critic once said of the play’s two acts, “Nothing happens. Twice.)

The “country road” specified by Beckett as the play’s locale, has here been replaced, perhaps for (dare I say it?) realism’s sake, by an urban ruin, but it hardly matters: nowhere is nowhere. This production seems to like nowhere rather more than Beckett would want it to; their dire situation seems more bearable than it does in my reading of the play.

McKellen, using a Beckettian Irish accent, is brilliant and hilarious and deeply moving; Stewart seems to be a bit self-conscious in this horsing-around mode, grinning at his own loss of dignity, less intellectual than “my” Didi.  Both their voices, even in meditative whispers, can be heard with the perfect precision of great classical actors.

In true Shakespearean tradition, the show ends with a jig, although this time it’s a vaudevillian routine.  For a play about “hope deferred” making the “heart sick,” it’s an awful lot of fun.


At the Cort Theater, 138 West 48th Street, Manhattan; 212-239-6200, Through March 2.

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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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