Playwright: Samuel Beckett
At: Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Navy Pier, 800 E. Grand Ave. Tickets: 312-595-5600; ChicagoShakes.com; $68-$88. Runs through: June 3
"On the other hand, what's the good of losing heart now, that's what I say. We should have thought of it a million years agoin the nineties."
That line, from Waiting for Godot's Vladimir ( "Didi" to his friendser, friend ), landed with gales of gallows laughter in the Chicago Shakespeare audience assembled to see Garry Hynes' spot-on staging of Samuel Beckett's classic. A touring production from Hynes' Druid company in Galway, Ireland, this WorldStage offering, like our own corporeal existence, runs only a brief time.
Given the Groundhog Day-like tenor of our current era, where one outrageous absurdity follows another, the plight of Vladimir and Estragon ( or "Gogo"though of course he never really goes anywhere ) has fresh resonance. ( Depending on your political persuasion, you might be "waiting for Mueller" to save you from despair. )
Hynes' staging is in some ways a palimpsest of what we've come to expect from this play. ( Beckett's estate allows for few departuresyou'll never see a female Didi-and-Gogo pairing, for instance. ) But she and her quartet of splendid actors tap a deep vein of wit and find moments where the dread rises up from below, only to be hammered down like an existential game of Whac-A-Mole.
Marty Rea's angular Vladimir and Aaron Monaghan's lumpish Estragon bring a classic Mutt-and-Jeff contrast that heightens the broad physical comedy. A section where Rea struggles to put Monaghan's shoes on his feet is masterful. But those shoes also provide one of the most tender moments. At the top of the second act, Rea's Vladimir enters alone, sees his friend's brogans resting on the edge of the stage, and takes a deep joyful whiff. He's like a loyal dog finding the scent of another canine and realizing that he may not be all alone, after all. ( The text says that he "manifests disgust," but the choice here works even better. )
The relationship of Rory Nolan's imperious Pozzo and Garrett Lombard as his ironically named slave, Lucky, stands in stark opposition to the needy needling of Didi and Gogo, who cannot ever quit each other, despite the latter musing, "I sometimes wonder if we wouldn't have been better off alone, each one for himself."
They wouldn't. That is the silver lining in the darkling absurdity of their world, which, thanks to Francis O'Connor's scenic design and James F. Ingalls' lights, makes it seem as if they're living inside a Magritte painting. We may, as Pozzo asserts, "give birth astride a grave." But the great strength of Druid's Godot is that it very much lets us see that, while the desperation doesn't fade with another's company, at least that companionship passes the repetitive time until the end.