Sunday, September 25, 2016

Review - Waiting For Waiting For Godot - Loudmouth Collective - What Are We Waiting For? - 3 stars

If the comedy title Waiting For Waiting For Godot makes you giggle, then Loudmouth Collective’s current production of that play at Open Eye Figure Theater is just the play for you.  If, like me, that title makes you roll your eyes, then it probably isn’t the play for you.  (This pains me, because I’ve liked both the other productions I’ve seen from Loudmouth - Fuddy Meers, and A Bright New Boise - a lot.  This, sadly, missed making it three in a row.)

“Why must the show go on?”

I hasten to add - there’s not a single thing wrong with Loudmouth’s production.  The cast of Sam Landman, Gabriel Murphy and Sulia Rose Altenberg are all just as good as you would expect them to be - by which I mean, very good, very gifted comic performers, who always deliver their best work no matter what project they’re in, making bad plays bearable and great plays even greater.  The same can be said of the directing skills of Matt Sciple - he always gives a script his best, any play is better off for having him at the helm.  The production team also nails it, particularly Meagan Kedrowski’s set and props, which create a perfect little backstage world littered with clothes, props, fake bits of scenery, costume renderings, old show posters and production shots that seems just like the green room environment a lot of actors spend their time waiting around in at one point or another in their careers.  (And, since it’s a riff on Waiting For Godot, I love the bare coat tree at the back of the room, a nice wink to the tree of the original.)  Megan Winter’s lights, Mary C. Woll’s costumes, Rosemary G. Hartunian Alumbaugh’s sound - all are just right, not overdoing it, but also not leaving any prime opportunity to make the show look and sound better unmined.  Since we regularly break the fourth wall here, even stage manager Elizabeth Stauble gets in on the act, in addition to her regular duties of making sure the whole thing runs smoothly.

“This is a very difficult show to do.  No one even knows what it means.”

The problem, for me, is the play.  Now, everyone around me was thoroughly enjoying themselves, so I probably just need to lighten up, turn off my brain and just let the jokes hit me.  But comedy that is dependent on either the characters being stupid, or the audience being stupid, just makes me cross. And for the most part, that’s all the comedy you get in Waiting For Waiting For Godot.  Thus, my confession at the top that this play just isn’t for me.

“Acting is easy.  They let anyone do it.”

The conceit of the piece is that there are two long-suffering, endlessly patient understudies for the two lead roles in a production of Samuel Beckett’s absurdist classic Waiting For Godot.  Ester (Landman) and Val (Murphy) wait in the green room, in costume, in the hopes that I guess an actor will suddenly become ill, have a family emergency, get a lighting instrument dropped on their head, or just on a whim of the director they will be yanked offstage and the understudy will go on in their place for the rest of the show, which has already begun.  Periodically, the assistant stage manager Laura (Altenberg) will wander backstage to engage them in conversation.  Like the perpetually expectant but disappointed characters in the real play, these understudies have a long wait ahead of them.  And that’s the gag.  I get it.

“Do not speak to me of God.  I gave up on him years ago.”

This is probably one of those plays where non-theater people see it and think, “Boy, I’ll bet people who work in theater get an even bigger kick out of this because they get all the inside jokes.”  But if you’re actually a person who’s worked in theater in any capacity, you just sit there thinking, “No, that’s not how it works.  And that’s not how that happens either.  And that’s just perpetuating an unhelpful and misleading stereotype.  And… argh!!!!”  Or at least that was my internal monologue watching it.  In a past professional life, I spent a number of years working as a stage manager.  I’ve dealt with understudies.  There are countless actors that have been part of, and continue to pass through, my life.  They all deserve better treatment than this.

“We were dark yesterday.”
“I’m dark most days.”

Is life in the theater absurd?  Yes.  Is an understudy’s role an often thankless and little rewarded one?  Certainly.  Do artists in general and actors in particular frequently do things that are perfect fodder for comedy or satire?  Absolutely.  There is a rich vein of material, grounded in the facts and details of real life and human psychology, that could make for an exceptional comedy.  Even with this basic premise.  The playwright Dave Hanson instead goes for cheap jokes and easy targets, dumbing his characters and the play down to a level I’m sure he expects an audience can better appreciate.  But every time you make a character behave in the way a real person would never do, just to get a laugh, you insult your character, the person on which they’re based, and your audience.  So I don’t laugh.

“No one actually *goes* to Julliard.”

Again, I should probably just lighten up and enjoy Sam Landman and Gabriel Murphy doing physical comedy together.  I should revel in Landman skewering every pompous, fame-hungry actor who didn’t bother to do their homework.  I should be tickled by Sulia Rose Altenberg putting the other actors in their place, and doing her dramatic performance of calling light cues.  They’re all very good at what they do, and they’re working very hard to serve up the laughs.  If you can shut off your brain and just enjoy Waiting For Waiting For Godot for the dumb comedy it is, then more power to you.

“What kind of people wait around for a promise that doesn’t come?”

But because the play is echoing, and frankly drafting behind, a much better play, I frankly expect this play to up its own game and be better.  But it’s not.  I’m not one of those people who sits thinking, “How dare you sully Beckett’s great masterpiece!”  If you’ve got the balls to go there, by all means, have at it.  But don’t settle for being derivative.  Bring something new, your own unique perspective, to the conversation.  Writers are constantly being inspired by storytellers that came before them.  Shakespeare himself “stole” some of his best material from other sources.  But he took that raw material and made it his own, made it better.  I was waiting for something better to come along here.  It never arrived.

3 stars - Recommended

(l to r: Gabriel Murphy, Sam Landman, and Sulia Rose Altenberg in Loudmouth Collective's production of Waiting For Waiting For Godot; Justin D. Gallo Photography)

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