Street parking came shamefully easily on Friday night in downtown Endicott. It was a shame because Washington Avenue and EPAC’s Robert Eckert Theater should have been overfull with people coming to this season’s thrilling production of Waiting for Godot.
Samuel Beckett’s absurdist allegory, written in 1949, is alive and well under the care of director Patrick Foti and some tremendously talented young actors. Tickets remain available for Saturday’s show and Sunday’s matinee.
The play tells the story of two hobos waiting in a desolate spot (not unlike purgatory) for a God(ot) who never comes. They could pass their time creatively, or philosophically—or romantically, one supposes—but in typical Beckett fashion, they mostly natter about the mundane or body aches while they “pass the time.” Occasionally they consider hanging themselves from the scenery’s solitary tree, but even that task is too daunting for this pair.
The slightly smarter of the slow-witted duo is Vladimir, portrayed by Matt Gaska. The actor avails himself wonderfully in the role, as does Dustin Hirthler, who plays Estragon his trusty dusty sidekick. Both young men are thrilling talents and destined to go far beyond the streets of Endicott.
These thespians modulate their voices with masterful appropriateness and comport their bodies with precision. Like me, you may be surprised to find that WFG is a much more physical play than you remember, with dashes of almost Marx-bros-level shtick and some wince-inducing tumbles. These fine actors, especially Hirthler, who is a pliable noodle, can do whatever the stage requires of them.
The quiet touches, though, are where Gaska and Hirthler truly shine. The former uses subtle movement—the fingertip twirling, the bit of pigeon toe—to imbue his role with vibrant life. Both he and Hirthler have excellent voice and face control, and there are moments when the desolation demonstrated by the latter’s frown moved an emotion in this reviewer’s heart that is too often obscured by a crusty boulder. Well done, lads.
Eventually in the play, someone else does arrive, a Falstaffian figure named Pozzo (POZZO!) who keeps another, exhausted human as a slave, leashed by a rope around his neck. Here Beckett hits his point squarely on the nose by naming the latter character Lucky. Interpret that as you will.
More amusing nonsensical dialogue ensues, while our initial hobos struggle to make sense of and converse with the blustery master who mistreats his ward. Eventually, they persuade Pozzo to allow Lucky to “think”, which unleashes a tour de force torrent of uninterrupted, bombastic speech that lasts for minutes while the hobos roll around in apparent discomfort. First, be careful what you wish for, bums. Second: How remarkable it is that the oppressed man had so much to say, but sadly, when finally given the chance, he says it all at once and it comes out as blithering nonsense.
Here, one must stand and applaud the talent of newcomer Nicholas Dabbracci.
As Lucky, Dabbracci spends much of his stage time bent-backed, breathlessly obeying his master’s commands, lugging bags, and near death, mostly. His two big moments in the play come when he is permitted to dance and then think. The dancing is a histrionic performance of explosive spastic movements that, as Beckett intended, startles the audience after so much aimless dialogue.
When Lucky is ordered to think, boy does he have stuff on his mind. Unfortunately, given the chance to finally express himself, all he can do is spitfire, micro-machine-announcer style, a diarrhea dialogue that prattles on forever, signifying nothing. While Dabbracci is mid-rant, after what already feels like minutes, one asks oneself, “How is he doing that?” And by the rap’s conclusion, when his counterparts and his audience feel obliterated by words, there comes an audible sigh of relief from the crowd and an urge to give Dabbracci a standing ovation. It’s a stunning stage debut.
The play continues. Pozzo exits, intending to sell Lucky at the market. A child messenger (played by the winsome Ciaran Kane, who does his damndest to keep a straight face, God bless him) arrives to relay the news that Godot, while not busy, will not be visiting today. Please try back tomorrow.
And so the hobos do, and once again wait. Pozzo and Lucky return, the same but different, what with the master being afflicted by sudden blindness and therefore even more dependent upon his servant.
Brett Alan Dewing plays the part of Pozzo and was more settled into the role in the Second Act. Physically he is perfectly matched, but he lacks the vocal command of his play partners. His yelling at Lucky in the First Act is too loud, as though he’d been directed to go to the top of his register, a Spinal Tap 11, when a nine or even eight would suffice. Still, he fits the Pozzo costume perfectly, and it can be hard to find nuance when playing smarm, which he lays on thick. He’s a one-man marching band, blaring through a dust bowl and a perfect foil to the faded Vladimir and Estragon.
Finally, Pozzo and Lucky depart again. The messenger boy returns to announce: sorry, no Godot today, but try again tomorrow. The play ends with our hobo heroes exactly where we found them, still waiting for Godot.
Don’t miss the opportunity to see these excellent performers delivering the goods in a great play at EPAC this weekend. To do so would be not so lucky.