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Production of “Waiting for Godot” impresses with humor, soliloquy

Counter-Production Theatre Company showcased intimacy in space, conversation

Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” stands as one of the dramatic world’s most complex works, widely recognized since its 1959 publication for its minimalist plot and thematic absurdities. The now-canonical avant-garde play primarily takes the form of conversations between Estragon and Vladimir, as the duo futilely bide their time for the eponymous Godot to arrive. Comically non-linear and dripping with dark humor, these interactions’ deliberately confusing nature preclude any real plot progression and defy any concise summary. Rather, they work as hilariously bleak canvases from which viewers might project their own interpretations, be they metaphysical renderings of Godot as an unreliable God or Freudian studies of the self. Though Godot fails to arrive by the play’s conclusion, audiences are left with decidedly more profound gratification when they exit, forced to grapple with the existential themes Beckett poses.

Well-acted and wildly funny, AS220’s Counter-Production Theatre Company’s version of “Waiting for Godot” manages to do the Irish playwright some justice. The production, directed by Valerie Remillard, hits all of Beckett’s comic elements to a tee — a draw that may be in no small part attributed to leads Geoff Leatham and Dan Fischer. Playing Estragon and Vladimir respectively, the pair complement each other well, readily exchanging high degrees of wit and slapstick violence. Fischer and Leatham’s dramatic dexterity more than compensate for the existential languor of the play, especially for the less philosophically-inclined members of the audience. Leatham, capable of animatedly moving from the crestfallen to the ecstatic, demonstrates a range of expression and delivery particularly deserving of commendation.   

The two actors are intermittently joined by an opposing pair comprising Steven Zailskas and Stevie Smith, who play Pozzo and his mute minion Lucky. Functioning as more active foils to the passive couple of Estragon and Vladimir who resign themselves to waiting for Godot by a tree stump, Pozzo and Lucky are domineering and relentlessly comic forces. As Pozzo, Zailskas brashly delivers his lines and interrogates Estragon and Vladimir like some cartoonish and flamboyant supervillain. All the while, he oscillates between eating chicken and whipping Lucky. Even as Pozzo ostensibly turns blind in act two, Zailskas never loses sight of the character’s excitable and restless demeanor.

But the honor of the production’s most impressive performance goes to Smith. Otherwise tongue-tied for the duration of the play, Smith as Lucky launches into a soliloquy at the end of Act One, which surely knocked out a couple audience members at Saturday’s showing. Lucky’s sole lines as they appear in this soliloquy are often cited as one of the play’s apical moments, starting out as some philosophical rumination before blurring into inscrutable absurdity in a prime instance of the play’s frustratingly fascinating ambiguity. Smith conveys the soliloquy with real technical complexity, spitting out rapid-fire prosody without even a moment’s breath like a French absurdist seized by the Golden Age of hip-hop. Connor Remillard Myette executes another standout performance as a comparatively minor character, delivering the news of Godot’s continual delays with a grave tone.   

The simple and bare-bones set design, comprising only a starkly towering tree and a stump, accentuates the minimalist merits of Godot and plays to AS220’s tiny Black Box theater’s strengths. Audiences members’ seats circumscribe the stage on three sides, emulating what it must feel like to observe Pamplona’s running-of-the-bulls as unrestrained chaos unfolds within a pinky’s reach of the crowd. A few times throughout the show, Pozzo even grazed against some crowd members’ feet, to the terror of some unsuspecting children in attendance. Such intimacy would be difficult to replicate at venues larger than the Black Box Theatre and underscores the contained and claustrophobic craziness of the five-character slow-burn that is “Waiting for Godot.”

Indeed, Counter-Production’s iteration of Beckett’s work permits audiences to enjoyably suspend their rational faculties for the play’s nearly three-hour running time. Off the walls with deft performances by the whole cast, “Waiting for Godot” should be on anyone’s list of stellar home-grown Providence theater.


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