A vacant old theater in northeast Minneapolis makes a perfect backdrop for Beckett’s bleak landscape.
At intermission, I offered the man sitting behind me $10 for his bottle of Mountain Dew. He wanted $20, so we had no deal, but such was the value of a cold drink among us languishing in the heat of an abandoned building. Actually, that guy did me a solid because a tall Dew likely would have necessitated a subsequent visit to the Porta-Potty outside the Hollywood Theater in northeast Minneapolis. No air conditioning, no running water; just this dusty, disheveled auditorium teeming with ghosts — the perfect location to consider Theatre Pro Rata’s production of Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot.”
Pro Rata is squatting in the Hollywood at the invitation of the city of Minneapolis, which owns the building. Director Ryan Ripley has rummaged a playing space in the rough middle of the auditorium. Portable lights cast a harsh relief on grimy actors dressed in tatters. Bleak, bleak, bleak.
Which is just as it should be with Beckett’s classic meditation on modern nihilism. Dave Gangler’s Vladimir and James Rodriguez’s Estragon are post-apocalyptic tramps whiling away their days with any activity that makes the time pass. Estragon chews the gristle from discarded chicken bones; Valdimir urinates against the wall; they both contemplate suicide. But still life grinds on: “There is no denying it is still day.”
Yes it is, one day piling into the next and then the next as we wait for Godot. But Mr. Godot never arrives with a cleansing astringent to heal our wound. Beckett’s language and his observations bear the truth of immediate circumstances in “Godot,” and yet ring as timelessly as if they were carved in stone: “To live is not enough; you have to talk about it.”
How’s that? Did Beckett foresee Twitter?
Gangler and Rodriguez click with their easy banter, Gangler’s Vladimir the cheery one and Rodriguez as grumpy Estragon.
“We are happy,” Vladimir (or is it Estragon?) says to Estragon (or is it Vladimir?).
“So what do we do now that we are happy?” replies the other.
“Wait for Godot.”
As the play evolves, Ripley’s production seems credible enough, hinting ever so slightly at the streaks of hope Beckett offers. There is, after all, an optimism in survival.
But then David Tufford’s Pozzo arrives, cracking his whip and excoriating his slave, Lucky (Jesse Corder). Rarely do you see a “Godot” where Pozzo commands so much of our attention with an unforgiving brutality. Tufford’s swagger and heft mark him as a blunt bully, but one who charms with self-deprecating humor. Tufford’s Pozzo relishes this fetid nightmare and comes to symbolize our worst instincts and highest aspirations.
And as Beckett would say, “That’s how it is on this bitch of an Earth.”
This hot, stifling Earth.